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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Furry pet therapy volunteers bringing smiles to faces of aged care residents

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During National Volunteer Week, well-earned and overdue recognition is lavished on the many thousands of selfless human givers across the country, but what about our four legged heroes?

Residents at Resthaven Paradise, an Adelaide residential aged care facility, for example, have their days brightened by a very special furry friend: Shadow the husky.

Shadow is the nine-year-old canine companion of Russell Dahms, who has been volunteering with Resthaven Paradise since July 2021.

“Shadow loves meeting new people during our pet therapy sessions,” Dahms says.

“The staff and residents have absolutely fallen in love with Shadow, and the feeling is mutual.

“He loves one on one, and group sessions with residents.”

Russell Dahms, pictured with dog Shadow, says his volunteer pet therapy sessions with residents of Resthaven Paradise have been beneficial for the mental health of all participants — Shadow included!

Dahms and Shadow have been visiting Resthaven Paradise once a week, and the drop-ins are something the pair look forward to with glee.

“It is now at the stage where he sits by the gate, waiting to go to Resthaven Paradise, Dahms says, laughing.

“We will often visit more than once a week – he just loves it.”

“Occasionally, I take along some treats that residents can give him, and he is always looking for them.”

Shadow is not the only cuddly volunteer making an appearance at Resthaven Paradise these days.

Dahms also owns Flicker, a two-year-old Siberian husky cross with poodle and Manchester terrier.

Unlike the boisterous shadow, younger ‘sister’ Flicker is quite shy— but she is slowly coming out of her shell as she attends volunteering sessions at Resthaven.

“She only occasionally visits with us, but residents love cuddling her when she does,” Dahms says.

Russel Dahms, Resthaven volunteer, takes Shadow (left) and Flicker, right, to visit Resthaven Paradise residents so they can enjoy pet therapy sessions

The pet therapy sessions at Resthaven have been popular with all residents, including those living with dementia.

“It never ceases to amaze me to see the big smile on residents’ faces when they meet the huskies, especially those experiencing memory loss,” Dahms says.

“A lot of residents used to own dogs themselves, and they particularly enjoy having a canine friend again.”

Angela Snowball, Resthaven Paradise’s support officer for volunteer services and special projects, says that the volunteering services of Dahms and Shadow have made an immensely positive impact on the wellbeing of residents.

“One resident told me that on the days their family were unable to make it, a visit from Shadow and Russell becomes the highlight of their day.”

Resthaven Paradise’s much loved furry four-legged volunteer Shadow really light up Resthaven Paradise residents’ day with his regular visits to the facility.

When Shadow and Flicker aren’t visiting residents, you will find them enjoying long walks in Linear Park, or having a run in one of their local dog parks.

Resthaven always welcomes new volunteers, and not just the four-legged variety.

For South Australians interested in lending a hand at your local Resthaven facility, follow this link.

  • The superb photographs in this story are the work of Resthaven volunteer photographer, Monica Cugnier Machado.
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