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Jordy, a rescued greyhound enjoying a pat from happy residents. Picture: Supplied.

Rescued greyhounds racing to improve wellbeing of residents

In the coming months residents living in HammondCare homes will enjoy regular visits from slender canine companions.

Syndey-based Greyhound Rescue partnered up with the aged care home to pilot the Australian-first program 'Hounds Helping Humans', with an eye on improving the residents' quality of life.

The union is expected to reduce loneliness and depression, including among those living with dementia.

Aged Care Insite spoke with Greyhound Rescue President Nat Panzarino, who says greyhounds are the perfect breed for older people in residential care.

"Not only are the hounds calm themselves, but they also tend to have a calming effect on people around them," Panzarino explains.

"One of the things that makes them suited to being in aged care is actually their physical size.

"Because they're quite large, you don't have to bend down to pat them, and they can easily get up next to somebody using a walker or in a wheelchair, or even who's in bed."

Australia has seen a gradual increase in popularity of therapy dogs to help soothe anxiety and distress in aged care residents.

Plus, older people and rescued hounds both crave the interaction of touch and affection.

Panzarino says that the dogs are also a great conversation starter while giving residents something to look forward to.

"They're reminiscing about former pets that they've had and speak with the handler about the hound, which allows them to have a new interaction with someone different," she explains.

"Aside from just being present and being there, to have a chat and a pat, there's also an opportunity for residents to go for a walk or to spend time in the garden with the hounds.

"It's just about interacting and having a bit of a change to their day."

In the lead-up to the program's release, Panzarino has worked closely with volunteers to prepare them in handling the dogs.

HammondCare CEO Mike Baird

The not-for-profit organisation rescues unwanted greyhounds from the racing industry to be rehabilitated and rehomed as family pets.

She hopes the program will contribute to changing the public view of the breed. 

"Hopefully, it shows people that greyhounds are very well suited for other things, aside from being race dogs."

The hounds have been specifically trained to be familiar with the sounds, smells and objects found in an aged care facility's environment.

Their temperament has also been put to the test by guiding them through different challenging exercises. 

While 'Hounds Helping Humans' is still in its early days, Panzarino has already received positive feedback from the volunteers and the aged care staff.

"The HammondCare staff said that everybody's had a really good time facilitating the interactions between the residents and the hounds."

HammondCare's chief executive Mike Baird says he's committed to having regular weekly or fortnightly visits on the same day and time.

"It'll ensure that consistency is provided and a meaningful connection can be established," he says.

"This way, residents in aged care can pursue long-held interests and develop new ones through programs like visual arts, music and animal engagement.

"Meaningful involvement with everyday life is crucial to everyone's wellbeing."

Baird is particularly interested in improving the quality of life of residents living with dementia.

He's backed up by research indicating therapy dogs can significantly alleviate psychological and physical problems associated with the disease, such as depression and agitated behaviour.

Since the pilot is an extension of previous animal engagement programmes, Baird hopes to see similar positive outcomes for his residents.

"Earlier projects have greatly improved their quality of life by decreasing loneliness and depression while increasing physical activity and improving socialisation," he says. 

So far, aged care facilities in Horsely, Darlinghurst and Wahroonga have been selected for the program with an anticipated three-monthly review.

"The aim is to widen the program after the pilot to include more of our residential care homes in NSW," Baird says.

"It would be a wonderful outcome if rescued greyhounds can be given a new purpose to provide happiness for older people in the community."

A HammondCare staff member who has recently participated in the pilot says the hounds incite a remarkable response from residents.

"A resident who claimed to hate dogs couldn't stop petting a visiting hound and commenting on its soft silky hair," the staff member recalls. 

"Whenever a hound enters an apartment, eyes widen, residents appear from their rooms to see what's happening, and those dozing in their chairs wake to pat, smile and chat."

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