The therapy provided through this ‘Animal Assisted Activity’ can enhance a recipient’s physical and socio-emotional well-being. The same activities can be repeated with many people in various settings or institutions, says Mr Augustine Chai, Vice-President of TDS and our nursing home volunteer for more than three years.
For a whole hour in the afternoon, residents get to interact with the dogs in the nursing home’s function hall. Led and assisted by the dog owners, residents get to feed treats to the pets, play with them, watch them perform tricks, and cuddle with them. Small dogs may be put onto the laps of patients to be stroked, while larger dogs are trained to ‘feet up’ onto patients to be patted.
All the dogs have gone through temperament assessment conducted by TDS to ensure that they show no signs of aggression when meeting new people and dogs in unfamiliar environments.
Every session usually involves 15 to 20 residents, and around 10 to 15 TDS volunteers with some eight to 10 of their pets. During festive occasions, such as Chinese New Year and Christmas, the visiting group tends to be larger. The volunteers will dress the dogs up, plan more activities such as simple performances and games, and distribute goodie bags.
Ms Kara Mok, Community Partnership Executive at MWS BMNH, said: “The residents really look forward to this monthly event, as it’s quite a change from their daily routine. It’s always such a fun and joyous session that is enjoyed by our residents, as well as the staff. Everyone always leaves with a smile.”
Kara adds: “As most of our residents have mobility issues and can’t move around easily, the dog therapy sessions give them an opportunity to use their sense of touch. The interaction also calms and comforts them. Some who were initially intimidated by the dogs grew to love them.”
Resident Jennifer Gomez agrees: “The dogs are very cute and gentle. I enjoy spending time with them, and look forward to every session.”
Beyond dog therapy, the residents also form lasting friendships with the pet owners. According to Kara, some of them have come to know one another very well over the past few years.
Augustine shared: “I find that the residents recognise our dogs easily, sometimes even before they recognise us. There are a couple of residents who are familiar with us, and we chat about topics ranging from cooking to fantasy stories.”
Another TDS volunteer is Ms Kit Heeremans (pictured bottom left), a Dutch national and Singapore resident. Kit has been the group’s main co-ordinator for BMNH in the past year.
Until she started volunteering in 2015 with her two Labradors Mowgli and Baloo, she did not realise how much the therapy would benefit all the parties involved.
“Sometimes no words are spoken – a smile or a friendly pat on the arm can make a positive impact as well. This experience has made me aware of the residents’ situations, which are often very difficult. It has also taught me that not speaking each other’s language does not make communication impossible; that the love of animals can bring comfort during tough times; and that dogs are indeed man’s best friend,” Kit explained.
Kit added that her pets also enjoy the monthly visits. “They love being with the other dogs, and they love all the attention that they get from the patients, not to mention the cookies that they are offered for doing tricks. When I prepare them for the visit and bring out their blue Therapy Dog bandanas, they get excited and start wagging their tails. They burn lots of positive energy during each visit, and get so exhausted that they sleep for hours afterwards.”
At MWS BMNH, 80 per cent of the 271 residents are over 60 years old. Almost three-quarters of them require maximum nursing care and are totally dependent on the staff to help them perform daily living activities, such as eating, using the toilet, showering and even moving around. In fact, two out of three residents are wheelchair-bound. Most of them are also destitute, come from low-income families, and have no alternative home care arrangements.
To volunteer at MWS BMNH, please contact Ms Kara Mok at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to increasing demand for elderly care services, we are launching a second nursing home in Yew Tee this August. Volunteer help is greatly appreciated. To find out more about volunteering opportunities at MWS, please visit the MWS website at www.mws.sg/volunteer, speak to the MWS Ambassador at your church, or email us at email@example.com. To donate, please log on to give.mws.sg.