Peata is the Irish organisation for pets and people. It was established in 1996 by a small group headed by veterinary surgeon John Bainbridge who recognised the benefits that people can derive from pet animals. He was the first person to introduce the concept of pet facilitated therapy in Ireland. Peata is a voluntary charity that provides physical, therapeutic and educational benefits to people, young and old, in hospitals, nursing homes, day care centres, schools and other places where people are restricted from having pets and where the presence of dogs and their handlers will add comfort and support to individuals. It also works at improving the quality of life of the elderly.
Peata’s principal activity is the pet visiting scheme in which approved volunteers and their dogs pay regular visits to caring institutions. All visiting teams registered as members of Peata have to be assessed and approved for suitability. The dog must undergo behavioural assessment to ensure its friendly nature and that it is at ease in a hospital like environment. Commitment is an essential requirement of all Peata visitors as patients build up a relationship with the dog and look forward to his visits.
The benefits of a visiting dog are:
- He helps to combat isolation, withdrawal, loneliness, boredom and depression
- He brings companionship and aids social interaction
- He gives no judgemental affection
- He helps to reduce stress and lower blood pressure
Fifty years ago I first became interested in animal therapy after reading about a minister who brought his dog into a nursing home in England. There was one patient who did not speak to anybody but as soon as she became aware of the dog, a beautiful Labrador, she put her arms around him and the tears began to flow. Some kind of healing had taken place. The dog got through to her when nobody else could.
I remember saying to myself that someday, maybe when I am retired I would get involved in work like that. I also saw the effect our own family dog, a Yorkshire Terrier called Teddy had on my mother. On days when she seemed agitated or anxious I would pick Teddy up and put him on the arm of her chair. It only took a few seconds for her hand to start stroking him and a noticeable calm would come over her. She praised him, she scolded him but it did not matter, loyal Teddy just accepted her as she was. He seemed to sense when she wasn’t well.
When my mother died I decided to contact the Peata Organisation. My first move was to find a dog!! My niece had a beautiful King Charles Cavalier so when I mentioned to her what my intentions were she immediately jumped at the idea and volunteered her dog, so Max became a part-time member of the community in Dún Mhuire. I was amazed how accepting the community were at having Max two days a week.
In March 2009 both Max and I started our team work. We visited various residential centres and were given an enthusiastic welcome everywhere. Some of these patients suffered from Alzheimer’s so it was very rewarding when they interacted with Max. At first Max was very nervous but he has become much more confident and now walks around wagging his tail and tipping every hand that comes his way. Now when he arrives all you hear is “Good Morning Max, Good Morning Max”. I answer back “Good Morning”. I began to think my name was Max !!
I will never forget one Christmas when I made cards for each one with Max’s photograph on the outside. They were all delighted with them, one patient said “ I keep Max’s photo on my mantelpiece and when anyone comes to visit I tell them all about him”.
In one centre we visited the high dependency unit where a nurse was assessing two patients – she asked if Max would come over to them as she wanted to see if there was any reaction from them. The gentleman showed no reaction at all, we then went to the lady, I knelt down on my knees in front of her and placed Max’s paw on her lap. I introduced myself and Max. I asked her if she liked dogs, without raising her head she answered “I adore them”. The carers was delighted at the reaction; it meant so much to hear Patricia speaking. The following week the lady’s husband having heard about his wife’s reaction brought in six photographs to her, it turned out that Patricia had six dogs. She looked at the photographs and one by one returned them to her husband, she kept one photo of the dog she liked the best. There was an extraordinary bond between Max and Patricia, who loved to feel Max’s nose and rub his paws. The strange thing was Max did not usually like people to hold on to his paws but Patricia was “special”. When visiting each week Max always ran to Patricia first before anybody else and when she died he went around looking for her. He couldn’t understand that there was another lady in her chair.
One day I went into a room where there were two gentleman sitting in complete silence until they saw Max. Their reaction was unbelievable. When I left the room the nurse said, “listen to what Max has done”. There was non-stop chattering about the times they had dogs of their own. Max breaks down barriers!
I think Max in his own way carries a “torch” and plays a small part in bringing a little joy to all the residents/patients he visits. He really lifts everybody’s spirits and puts a big smile on everyone’s face”.
Sr. Carmel Finnegan OP