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Four-legged friends cheer up patients


Being unwell and in hospital at Christmas time can be particularly difficult, however at Calvary North Adelaide Hospital a “gentle and peaceful” dog called Lila is helping to make a difference to patient wellbeing during the festive season.

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The 10-year-old greyhound and owner Caitlin Cantwell are part of the Volunteer and Pet Therapy program running at Calvary North Adelaide, Central District and Adelaide hospitals. The initiative involves accredited owners of pets – currently just dogs and cats – coming in to visit and interact with patients and staff in the hospital. It is a perfect opportunity for animal lovers to have a pat and hug with the furry visitor and a chat with their owner.

According to Caitlin, who has been involved in the program at Calvary North Adelaide Hospital for the past three years, for many patients the interaction with Lila is an “emotional experience”.

“Lila is an extremely gentle, peaceful dog, very sensitive and very empathetic and she goes into the right mode according to who she is meeting,” she said.

“Some of the patients we visit are really missing their own dogs at home and they get a bit teary and really need a ‘doggy hug’ – and that’s nice. Others, depending on what stage they are at in their healing process, are a bit emotional, a bit bored, or haven’t had a visitor for a long time so we just sit and chat with them.

“Bringing Lila in is making a small difference to their lives.”

Caitlin said Lila was also popular with staff members, who often stopped to pat her and have a quick hug during what was sometimes a difficult day for them.

On average, the duo visit about 20-25 patients when they attend and on a busy day they can be there for up to three hours.

One patient who looks forward to their visits is David Greenwell.

“I can’t stress enough how really important this program is for patients here,” he said.

“When you are stuck in a room 24/7 for some months…people get tired of coming to see you and I really look forward to the visit by Caitlin and Lila.

“Lila reminds me of my own greyhound, Bambi, at home… I love her to pieces and I just hope she doesn’t forget me.”

Last month Caitlin was presented with one of the annual Mary Potter Awards in recognition of the care and concern she demonstrated for a patient she met by chance when she was leaving the hospital with Lila one day.

A dog lover, the patient had gone over to pat Lila at the front of the hospital and struck up a conversation with Caitlin. He explained how he had been admitted to hospital for urgent care at short notice and didn’t have any extra clothing with him.

So concerned about his situation, Caitlin contacted the nearest Salvos store to source some clothing, then collected and delivered it to the patient.

Calvary North Adelaide Hospital Volunteer coordinator Jeannine Lampe said Caitlin was one of the many exceptional volunteers at the hospital who go “above and beyond” the call of duty.

Ms Lampe said they were calling for more volunteers like Caitlin and Lila to join the pet therapy program, with the aim of having at least one dog visiting the hospital each day.

“There is a great deal of evidence that pets promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional and cognitive functioning,” she said.

“Calvary is very supportive and always open to initiatives to improve our patients’ experience whilst they are with us and we are thrilled to be able to provide this service.”

Volunteers are required to undertake online training and have the necessary police clearances. Dogs in the program need to be assessed for their suitability and have the necessary vet checks and vaccinations.

Volunteer Kristy Liddicoat and her eight-year-old Border Collie, Jaspa, recently joined the program at Calvary North Adelaide Hospital.

A nurse at the hospital for 20 years and now working in Calvary’s Home Care program, Kristy said she knew firsthand how pets could provide emotional support in a time of crisis.

“I’ve had my own personal lived experience of going through a trauma and having dogs – I know how much they helped me through the difficult times,” she said.

“This is my old workplace and all the values of Calvary resonate with me, so I wanted to volunteer to give something back.”

For more information about the Volunteer and Pet Therapy program contact or call 0428 382 020.

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