Nerida and her canine companion Bastien have been volunteering with the Lort Smith Pet Therapy Program since 2016.
Originally a rescue dog, Bastien is a very handsome mutt. Nerida ‘thinks’ he is a Rhodesian ridgeback x Labrador. She describes him as the ultimate people dog.
“If he hadn’t gone into pet therapy, he’d have been a natural politician with the way he instinctively knows how to work the room and win people over,” laughs Nerida.
When Nerida’s in-laws moved into aged care, they struggled to adjust to the move and became quite depressed. She would take Bastien and her other dog Coco in to visit them and she noticed how their spirits lifted during these visits.
“During the visits I also noticed how Bastien was interested in saying hello to other residents on our way through the facility, and in turn how the other residents’ faces lit-up. That’s what prompted me to look into what opportunities might be open to us. My in-laws didn’t live long enough to see Bastien get to wear his pet therapy uniform, but I know they’d be thrilled with the great work he does in his role, and to know that they played a huge part in getting him into it,” shares Nerida.
Nerida works full-time as a Customer Service Administration Officer at a local council. She believes Lort Smith is an amazing organisation to be associated with and happily volunteers her time on weekends.
Nerida and Bastien visit an aged care facility in Brunswick. They spend time with up to 25 people each visit who all have varying degrees of capabilities. They have been visiting this facility since they first joined the program, up until the covid-19 restrictions were put in place.
“The initial pet therapy induction and assessment process can be quite lengthy, but it is very thorough and with that comes the reassurance that you know how much pride is taken in the program, and that you’re working with people who really care about what they do. The ongoing support is solid, too. Every newcomer to the program is matched with a mentor to help support them as they start making their visits, and to be there for them if they have any questions or concerns,” says Nerida.
Nerida and Bastien have forged quite a special friendship with one resident in particular who is bed-ridden from a stroke. Her speech is severely impacted as is her movement.
“From Day One, Bastien somehow just knew what was needed of him with this resident. Each time we visit her, he knows it’s okay for him to gently hop up on to her bed and lie alongside her. He does this with no other resident. The smile she gives when she sees him lights up the room, and she loves working her good arm/hand to feed him a few treats and pat him. He often lies down and falls asleep alongside her while she pats him and chats to us. I know our visits bring her so much more than just company – she can give and receive affection, she can have a bit of physio by working her arm/hand/fingers to pat and feed Bastien, and she can practice her speech with us too. I know our visits help her enormously,” shares Nerida.
Nerida is missing her visits terribly right now and cannot wait to pop the Lort Smith bandanna around Bastien’s neck once more and resume pet therapy duties.
“It sounds terribly cliché, but volunteering is so rewarding. I regularly find I get more from the visits than what Bastien and I deliver. It’s so heart-warming to be able to give something back to the community and help those who are often forgotten about, and suffer terribly from loneliness and isolation. And it also means I get to have some special 1:1 time with Bastien, sharing him and showing people just how special he is,” says Nerida proudly.
Anyone who has the pleasure of meeting Nerida and Bastien are equally charmed by them both. Together they form a most beautiful partnership and their adoration for each other is clear to see. Thank you for sharing this love with our community.