Tweed psychologist Nerida Saunders with indispensable helper, Cassie, the handsome King Charles Cavalier-cocker spaniel.
Tweed psychologist Nerida Saunders with indispensable helper, Cassie, the handsome King Charles Cavalier-cocker spaniel.

Therapy pets ease patients? tension



Animals have long been used for keeping elderly people company. HUGH KEARNEY reports on a Tweed psychologist who uses them to help treat patients.

THEIR names are Noni and Cassie.

They both have shiny, golden hair and deep brown eyes, and they work as therapists.

They are attentive, intuitive, dedicated and eager to please.

By all accounts, the clients love them and they love their work.

Noni, the more experienced of the pair, is a four-year-old long-haired Golden Retriever, known for her calm manner.

Her protege Cassie is precocious 18-monthold King Charles Cavalier cross cocker spaniel, and a cuter dog on the face of this earth is hard to imagine.

No wonder they have such a profound affect on the clients with whom they have contact at the Tweed Heads practice of psychologist Nerida Saunders and therapy practitioner Rustam Yumash.

Ms Saunders said, with the consent of clients, the practice has been including one or both of the dogs in animal-assisted therapy for more than three years.

"From the minute they greet the client at the door, they put them at ease," Ms Saunders said.

"They are very grounding and ease the tension in situations which are very stressful.

"I believe they lower the client's heart rate and make people less defensive when visiting a therapist," she said.

"This makes it that much easier for the person to open up for treatment".

The secret of the dogs' success is still a bit of a mystery although the therapists believe it is linked to how dogs and humans have evolved together over millions of years.

"I believe dogs know more about humans than we know about them," Mr Yumash said.

"Dogs are switched on, they don't suppress emotions like we humans do. They don't play (mind) games and they don't lie.

"With a dog, what you see is what you get, and I believe that is why people trust them and relate to them so readily," he said.

In four years, only one client at the practice had not wished the dogs to be present during therapy.

She said the positive affect the dogs had on most clients was too beneficial to be ignored, even if it wasn't fully understood, and the dogs often surprised them with their intuition and ability to sense the right thing to do.

"I was treating a client, a truck driver who was suffering shock three days after a serious accident," Ms Saunders said. "Noni sussed out the situation, she pushed past me and sat down next to the client and licked his arm the whole session," she said.

"He was sobbing with relief and months later thanked us for what Noni had done for him.'



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