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Pet therapy triggers memories, helps healing process

A duckling brings a moment of happiness to Flo Schimmel.
A duckling brings a moment of happiness to Flo Schimmel. Yvonne Gardiner

JODIE Alderton, operator of Harmony Hooves, Healing Hearts, has never doubted the power of animals to heal.

Troubled hearts, distressed minds, ageing bodies or traumatised souls, they're all contenders for support from her social enterprise.

Pet therapy pulled Jodie through her own teenage years, and it's a remedy she's now dedicated her life to providing for others.

"I can't explain how I feel when I see the face of an elderly person in a nursing home when they're able to hold and cuddle and smell a pony, sometimes for the first time in 50 years," she says.

"I've seen some incredible things. Old people crying and telling stories they haven't thought about in years, but also the ability that animals have to just help turn things around for kids who are quite traumatised by things like domestic violence or self-harm."

Having animals was Jodie's way of "getting through" her childhood.

"If I was having a bad day I'd just sit in the horse paddock or the chicken pen. The animals are so non-judgmental, they are just present, and they seem to know when somebody needs cheering up," she said.

After Jodie moved to the Gold Coast in 2005, she became involved in voluntary pet therapy programs and animal rescue work.

She combines the two on her Highland Park property, running some of the programs on-farm, but also taking the animals into nursing homes.

"For someone who is bedridden, or has difficulty just getting outside, the look on their face when we bring a pony or a goat right into their room is priceless," Jodie says.

"Just holding an animal can trigger really precious feelings, emotions and memories and we often have people remembering the names of their dogs from their childhood.

"Nursing homes make a donation when we visit, but it's basically what they can afford.

"It's never about money, it's about what we're doing for other people.

"We met a retired farmer who was bedridden, but the four dogs - three border collies and one Tibetan spaniel - were amazing with him.

"This little old farmer, lying in his bed, and all of a sudden he had a farm in his room. He couldn't stop talking about it. You can't put a price on that!"

Topics:  gold coast seniorsnewspapers wellbeing yvonne gardiner


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