POSITIVE AGEING: Greyhounds are helping to rescue the health of ageing Australians.
POSITIVE AGEING: Greyhounds are helping to rescue the health of ageing Australians.

Hounds of love: Ex-athletes promote wellness in aged care

MAINTAINING health and wellbeing among the elderly is complex. Yet some aged care facilities, both here and overseas, are choosing to house ex-athletes in a bid to improve residents' quality of life.

In fact, it's a growing trend. Why is this happening and why should managers consider this idea for their own facility?

These ex-athletes are racing greyhounds that have been lucky enough to survive until retirement and get a new lease of life by way of rescue groups.

And according to staff with a greyhound at their aged care facility, it's a winner.

Cindy Pitt is director of nursing at Mt Lofty Heights nursing home in Toowoomba, Queensland. She believes greyhound Sammy has a calming influence that has made a marked difference. He wears colourful ties and a coloured vest (in cooler months) which helps with visibility. Pitt says Sammy is a typical greyhound in that he is quite lazy, but loves his daily walk.

Tracy Harvison, manager at Strathglen Uniting AgeWell's residential facility in Hobart, says animals are part of the care provided. Greyhound Monty lives at Strathglen and interacts with all 45 residents, but gives special attention to people who are unwell, and he even spent four devoted days with a resident whose own dog had died.

Killarney Vale Aged Care Facility on NSW's Central Coast acquired greyhound Coco nearly six years ago from us at Greyhound Rescue. Coco goes home at night with a carer and spends the day at the facility. Manager Deanna Lomas says Coco has been a success, with no negatives.

A Maitland, NSW, facility head wrote to us recently on the death of greyhound Butch (placed by Greyhound Rescue): "I would like to thank you for the opportunity to have had Butch in our lives as he was a great companion to myself, residents, staff and visitors. He will be sadly missed."

There are many other examples of this happy marriage. Why? Greyhounds are ideally suited to the communal environment of a nursing home and flourish there because they:

  • are a good height to pat without residents having to bend.
  • love people and want to be with their humans.
  • get along really well with all sorts of people of all ages.
  • enjoy having people around all the time.
  • are not tripping hazards, unlike small dogs.

Greyhound Rescue recommends five key points for re-homing a greyhound within an aged care facility.

  • Everyone at the facility must be in favour of adopting a greyhound, including both staff and residents. 
  • The building and grounds must be secure. If there are automatic opening front doors to the building, a secure front yard is needed. This is because a greyhound can see up to one kilometre away. If they spot something interesting in the distance and get away from their human, catching them is unlikely.
  • There should be one person, maybe two, responsible for the greyhound and with whom the greyhound bonds.
  • Greyhounds need at least one 20-minute walk daily, but like most dogs would enjoy more.
  • There should be a quiet area in each facility where a greyhound can sleep undisturbed. All dogs benefit from a 'safe zone' or quiet spot when noisy activities occur.

If you want to re-home a greyhound at your facility, go to www.egreyhound.com.au, or contact one of the greyhound rescue bodies listed at www.animalsaustralia.org. It's vital that more aged care facilities join with the community and volunteers in providing homes for ex-racers. Greyhounds which are not adopted or kept as pets by their trainers are usually destroyed when their racing days end.

Sadly, this means thousands of dogs die every year in our country. Believe it or not, formal government inquiries have shown that the greyhound is the most widely bred dog in Australia.

While this appalling situation exists, there is no reason Australia can't become a world leader at placing greyhounds in aged care facilities. There is certainly enough evidence on the web of the positive impact greyhounds make in these places.

And don't worry about the muzzle that Australia's old-fashioned laws require greyhounds to wear - they don't apply at 'home', so aren't needed inside aged care facilities.

The RSPCA says "compulsory greyhound muzzling is contrary to RSPCA policy which states that the use of muzzles should be based on the behaviour of each individual dog".

So, if you're looking for new ideas to make your facility even better in 2018, look no further than a pair of big brown eyes at your local greyhound rescue.

You may light up the soul of someone in your care - especially those who are alone and lonely - just like Australian greyhounds.

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