Faces light up when sweet little Honey enters the room.
The cuddly cavoodle has been spreading Christmas cheer since she was a pup, and this year the team at Woden Community Service (WCS) will be getting a visit from her.
“Honey loves getting dressed up in her Santa or elf outfit and coming into the office with me,” says Sandy Van Der Toorn, WCS social groups coordinator
“She interacts with the staff from our different services who are under pressure all the time trying to provide support for people in our community with different needs.
“Sometimes we have young people or special needs groups coming through and it’s wonderful to see the smiles on their faces when Honey runs over to greet them.”
Before starting with WCS, Sandy worked in aged care, and from when Honey was a tiny puppy she would go to seniors’ groups and nursing homes where she interacted with residents.
“She essentially became an aged care therapy dog from eight weeks of age,” says Sandy.
“Because she’s small, Honey was lovely for people to hug on their laps, and she often helped break the ice in difficult situations.
“Cavoodles have that lovely personality and, being a smaller size, the seniors can pick her up a lot easier and she can sit up on the bed.
“It lights up your day to see people smiling when they meet an animal that is naturally so happy to see them.”
Honey has been a therapy dog for 11 years, but has had no formal training.
“She’s just a naturally beautiful companion dog who loves being around people and being cuddled,” says Sandy.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, Honey missed her regular visits to WCS and, as work returns to normal for her owner, she will be back doing what she loves best.
“When I hold up her fairy princess dress or her Santa suit, she gets so excited and goes nuts because she knows we’re going out,” says Sandy.
“She’s just amazing.”
According to the Animal Welfare League NSW, when elderly people engage with pets it increases their quality of life, including by reducing tension, fatigue and confusion, while also encouraging positive emotions and attitudes.
Pet therapy also delays the process of ageing through the increase of physical exercise, socialisation and improvement in mental function.
The excitement of pet therapy can help improve the sense of loss many former pet owners feel after moving into an aged care facility, and can help them recover quicker from illness and surgery.
A furry friend can make elderly people feel needed and comforted, and pets can remind the person of former, well-loved pets from their past.
A visit from a dog to an office can boost employee morale and satisfaction, and increase productivity.
Numerous studies have shown that when people take just a few moments to pat an animal, their stress is reduced.