Why did the chicken end up at a nursing home?

SALLY doesn't talk much but she's a good listener.

She always wears pink or blue on her rounds of Cartwright Lodge at Noosacare's Carramar site, and travels in style in a wicker basket that she thinks is a nest.

This is because Sally is a chook, a Chinese Silky to be precise, and she's a source of great joy and fun to the residents, who often push her around on a walker.

While pets in aged care centres are not exactly new, cats or dogs are the usual choice, but when the facility opened two and a half years ago it inherited a small flock of Silkies.

Sally and her mate Violet were the only white birds, inspiring the dementia wing's lifestyle coordinator and diversional therapist (and carer of chooks) Wendy May to color them with a harmless dye like cochineal.

Through her upbringing she understands the benefits of an animal's interaction with older people, and she quickly added the little hens into her repertoire of art and culture therapy.

"The color has a big impact," Wendy said.

"I introduce Sally to everyone and they say 'what have you got there? It's blue!'  "

"Pets are tremendous givers and takers of love and understanding; she likes to be patted.

"To love another creature is a very powerful emotion and the Silkies bring back many fond memories"

"We wouldn't have as many laughs without her, she's worth her weight in gold.

"She's almost like an allied therapist - Sally is a major part of my therapy."

Wendy creates a story around Sally to connect to residents.

"I might say 'Sally wants to know did you enjoy your breakfast this morning?' and they talk back to her.

"It takes them away from the everyday.

"She brings a tremendous amount of joy and frivolity to the residents, and dementia care is about creating moments of joy."

Not that Sally is a trail-blazer, but a growing body of scientific evidence is identifying a connection between animals and human health, pointing to the conclusion that animal-assisted therapy as a form of treatment can improve social, emotional and cognitive functioning.

Research has identified the benefits of pet therapy for the elderly that may include decreased blood pressure and stress, less depression, improved communication and reminiscence, and that many people who are normally unresponsive to other therapies brighten up and chat with a pet.

Elderly residents in aged care centres exposed to pets consistently smiled more and became measurably more alert.

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