The bond between people and animals is one that spans millennia. Dogs are known as the friend that’s always there, offering a relationship of non-judgment, unconditional love and loyalty.

For founder of Australian charity Animal Therapies Ltd Wendy Coombe, it was Jack, her Border Collie, that helped build her life again, literally from scratch.

Ms Coombe says she had a very successful senior management career at a large ASX-listed corporation, but then one day in 2014 she had no memory of how she’d gotten home from work.

Wendy Coombe and her dog Jack. Photo supplied.

‘My nervous system had shattered and I was diagnosed with very severe stress, anxiety and depression,’ says Coombe. ‘I went from being a high-level complex decision-maker and public speaker to someone who could barely speak without stuttering.

Ms Coombe says she is still on the road to recovery but thanks to the therapy and training that she and her friend and companion Jack were able to do through an animal assistance program, she’s been able to move forward so much more than she ever would have without an assistance dog.’

During her own recovery, Wendy identified the need for an umbrella organisation to bring together available services and so established the Animal Therapies Ltd charity in 2018, creating linkages, partnerships and joint initiatives between recipients, the private, public, education and community sectors.

Wendy is living proof that animal-assisted interventions can promote wellbeing and support recovery for people of all ages and circumstances, helping them to go on and lead productive lives.

Guide Dogs NSW–ACT love their therapy dogs

The Therapy Dogs Program is a community service which has been offered by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT for over 30 years. The program aims to assist members of the public who may benefit from a therapy dog but don’t have the time, capacity or resources to raise and train an appropriate dog themselves. The program carefully matches the client to the Therapy Dogs labrador that is best suited to their needs and surroundings for the best likelihood of a successful partnership.

Therapy Dogs may provide comfort, companionship and emotional support to individuals and those attending or residing in facilities who experience behavioural, emotional and mental health conditions, physical disabilities, or isolation caused by age or illness.

Current and past applicants have included children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, San Filippo Syndrome, Global Developmental Delay, epilepsy, anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, early-onset dementia, vision impairment, hearing impairment, stroke, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis and acquired brain injury to name a few.

The role of therapy dogs

The primary role of a Therapy dog for individuals is to provide companionship and emotional support to those who might benefit.

The primary role of a Therapy dog for a residential facility is to provide companionship and emotional support on a broader scale to appropriate facilities such as schools, nursing homes, psychologists, counsellors and rehabilitation clinics. Therapy dogs placed in residential programs have also been assessed as suitable to be in and around busy environments and are matched with their specific role in mind.

Therapy dogs placed in facilities require a Primary Carer who will take the dog home with them after their day ‘at work’.

Both Individual and Residential Therapy Dog applicants are required to provide a secure and loving home with adequate fencing and shelter and allow the dog to spend time in and sleep inside the home. Therapy dogs have been raised to be with people and as such should not be left alone for more than four hours a day most days of the week.

How do you qualify for a therapy dog?

The Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Residential Therapy Dog Programme self-assessment questionnaire for therapy dogs from a residential point of view can assist your suitability and readiness for a dog from our therapy dog program. Annual cost estimates of dog care and maintenance is also provided to understand the ongoing financial commitments.