Labrador Lachie brings gentle spark to Calvary aged care residents
Mary Smith’s face floods with joy as the black labrador pads gently into the room.
“Oh, I just love him,” she says, clasping her hands together.
“He is so wonderful. I was thrilled to bits when I saw the sign saying a dog was coming in!”
Mrs Smith is tucked up in bed at Calvary Haydon aged care home in Bruce, with Lachie by her side.
The three-year-old black labrador is a former trainee guide dog, now bringing joy, comfort and emotional support to residents as the newest member of the home’s pastoral care team.
“My legs aren’t really working, but oh well, that’s alright,” Mrs Smith said. “We all have ups and downs, and some people don’t have anyone to come and visit. But you don’t have to worry because you always have a friend – and that friend is Lachie”.
Pastoral Care Coordinator Chris Dudfield said Lachie brought a gentle spark to the residents’ daily lives and helped to open up opportunities for important and deeper conversations.
“Lachie is a unique layer of Pastoral Care in aged care that isn’t the norm,” he explained.
“Other aged care facilities have dog visits, but those visits are from handlers that are not pastoral care trained; so, there isn’t necessarily an ability for the dogs to be used as a conduit to reach into deeper conversations.”
Mr Dudfield said Lachie offered a calm presence, which often assisted residents in reminiscing or using him as a source of comfort.
“A lot of people have had to leave a dog at home,” resident Judy Williamson agreed.
“I am so happy to know we have Lachie to pat and talk to. I think it is a good idea, especially for a dog like this. Everybody loves to see him come in – those big eyes! It is a nurturing experience in life and about building new relationships as well.”
Mr Dudfield said there was something special about Lachie’s demeanour.
“He is very chill and attentive and attuned to people,” he said.
“Sometimes, he will accept a pat from a resident, and if he senses their distress over something, he will lay gently across their feet and be with them. Or if they are bedridden, we will lower the bed so that he can rest his head near their hand.”
Lachie and Mr Dudfield were brought together through Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s therapy dog program, and each had to undergo thorough suitability checks, training and familiarisation.
“He’s only been on the job about three weeks, but the response has been terrific and so heartwarming, even from those residents living with different levels of dementia,” Mr Dudfield said.
“His gentle presence will spark a smile and a touch for some, or a memory or moment of clarity for others.”
“He looks at you with his big eyes, and you start to pat him,” Mrs Smith said fondly.
“He doesn’t expect or demand anything; he just loves it. He lies on the floor beside you and you know you have a friend.”