|Dr Garry Kidd|
If you have a pet yourself, you will no doubt have experienced the wonderful difference their love and companionship can make in your life. This is no less true for many of the most disadvantaged members of our society. The Centre for Companion Animal Health is currently expanding its studies designed to make a real difference to the lives of some of these people, and our companion animals. The impact we are already having would simply not be possible without the generous financial support of our friends.
Dr Garry Kidd, recently appointed Deputy Centre Director and Research Fellow, is excited by the results from the Centre’s groundbreaking human-animal relationship studies.
One major study is looking at the benefits of animal-assisted therapy for older people with Alzheimer’s disease. This is a collaborative venture with The University of Queensland’s Australasian Centre on Ageing and is generously supported by the J.O. and J.R. Wicking Trust.
So far the results are extremely promising – the program has been very well received by participants and staff, with comments from participants including ‘I live for these sessions’, and ‘When I hold the dog, I don’t feel the pain in my back anymore’. Staff commented that ‘the dogs make an instant connection with residents’. ‘This type of therapy has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients’, Dr Kidd emphasised.
Young people are set to benefit from our studies as well, with the Centre’s newest animal-assisted therapy program focusing on establishing the benefit of pet-assisted therapy with a group of young people diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome. ‘Typically, when you look at the nature of the disorder, and at the grief experienced by sufferers and their families, there is a great opportunity to make a much needed difference through animals’, Dr Kidd said. ‘This is a very exciting development as good research in this area is very rare and we are delighted to be collaborating with an eminent specialist in this field, Dr Kate Sofronoff of The University of Queensland’s School of Psychology’.
Another of the Centre’s human-animal relationship programs is also resulting in positive outcomes which could have far-reaching effects. The Pups in Prison program is training offenders to care for and train assistance dogs for people in the community with disabilities. This is being achieved through a collaborative partnership between Queensland Corrective Services and Assistance Dogs Australia.
Reports from both offenders and custodial officers show that there are clear advantages for everyone who has contact with these dogs. One offender, for example, commented that the presence of the dogs ‘brings calmness’. An officer was impressed by the dedication of the offenders involved in training the dogs and how the program broke down barriers. Perhaps most telling were comments such as these: ‘… it’s as if their happiness rubs off on you’ and ‘… I have more compassion now ...’.
One of the aims of this program is to provide evidence of how offenders benefit in their social and emotional rehabilitation, and whether their parenting skills and rehabilitation prospects are improved by this type of experience. We desperately need more financial support to continue this program, and expand it to rehabilitate homeless dogs with behavioural problems that would otherwise be euthanised.
The Centre’s human-animal relationship work is groundbreaking, and truly makes a difference in the lives of people they touch.