Kirsty and her four-year-old black Labrador Olive have been volunteering with the Lort Smith Pet Therapy Program for almost two years. Together they visit the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
“The Volunteer Centre at Peter Mac is amazing and the Lort Smith Pet Therapy Program has great support from hospital management. We visit a wide range of patients in areas from waiting rooms, wards, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, pre- and post-surgery, and staff in offices and research areas.
“In more recent times Olive and I have been spending time with children undergoing radiotherapy. They range in age from two-16 years and show extraordinary resilience and courage. The children often request Olive dresses up so you never quite know what she will be wearing from week to week. I think Olive has more clothes than me!
“An experience that had a big impact on me was coming across a gentleman in the lift who asked me to see his daughter as she was a dog lover. When we entered the room she was surrounded by friends and family who were distraught and sobbing. The girl was lapsing in and out of consciousness and when her eyes were open she would reach for Olive and stroke her. When we left the room the atmosphere had changed and the people were calm. I found out that she had passed away later that day and spending time with Olive had made a huge difference to the end of her life. It doesn’t get more rewarding than that!” shares Kirsty.
Lort Smith Pet Therapy teams do not get paid for their service – it is completely voluntary which makes them all the more incredible. However the dogs do receive lots of pats and treats for their efforts. Kirsty describes Olive as extremely greedy!
“On the Labrador garbage guts scale she is right up the top. When we volunteer, she doesn’t get any food until the end of our shift. In the Volunteer Centre she gets one treat which is kept in the top drawer of the filing cabinet. We often visit people in offices and one of the things she likes to do is open the top drawer of people’s cabinets with her nose just to ‘check’ the treat status,” laughs Kirsty.
Kirsty is an occupational therapist. Her work has predominantly been in occupational rehabilitation based in workplaces. Kirsty really enjoys that pet therapy has her back in a hospital setting.
“It had been a goal of mine to be involved in pet therapy for a number of years and I was keen to train a puppy. In looking for a puppy I rang a number of people and came across a lady who had leukaemia as a teenager and recovered. She attributed much of her recovery to her beautiful Labrador and vowed to breed them to help others, so it was the perfect match,” recalls Kirsty.
Kirsty’s introduction to Lort Smith was hearing an ‘inspiring’ presentation by our Community Outreach Coordinator.
“I have been impressed with how thorough the dog assessment process was, the great communication and opportunities for further education. I appreciated the mentoring with experienced volunteers and feel like there are many people within Lort Smith I could approach for advice and support. They have done an especially great job throughout the coronavirus pandemic in reaching out to and checking up on their volunteers,” says Kirsty.
Volunteering has given Kirsty enormous satisfaction and a sense of purpose. And she has enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in new communities.
Thank you Kirsty, and Olive, for spreading nothing but love and joy to countless patients, families and staff. Your impact is immeasurable.