Paws for Healing: Meet Dolly – the therapy dog in Altius Group’s NDIS Program
In the heart of Bendigo, Victoria, a furry friend with a heart of gold is making a profound impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities. Meet Dolly, the therapy dog, whose story is as heartwarming as her therapeutic presence.
We had a chat with Emmaline Schneider, a senior occupational therapist at Altius Group and Dolly's loving owner, to learn more about the remarkable journey of this four-legged healer.
Dolly's journey as a therapy dog began in the very place she was born – Townsville, Queensland. Emmaline's sister had a litter of adorable puppies, and at just four weeks old, Dolly stood out as something special. Her calm and gentle nature set her apart from her energetic siblings. Emmaline, having an older dog named Bella at the time, had a hunch that Dolly's laid-back personality would be the perfect fit for Bella and, more importantly, for the individuals she works with in Altius Group's NDIS team in Victoria.
"I had first pick of the litter," Emmaline recalls with a smile, "and when I held Dolly in my arms, I just knew she was destined for something extraordinary."
But destiny alone couldn't make Dolly a therapy dog; it required dedicated training and accreditation. In the following interview, we delve into the journey of how Dolly transformed from a quiet pup into a certified therapy dog, spreading comfort and joy to those in need.
Dolly's innate compassion - a ‘pawsitive’ calling emerges
Emmaline's decision to turn Dolly into a therapy dog wasn't initially part of the plan. When she first brought Dolly into her home, her intention was simply to have a beloved pet, a furry companion to share her life with. Little did she know that Dolly's unique qualities would soon reveal themselves, setting her on a path to become a source of comfort and joy for so many.
"My initial plan wasn't to train a therapy dog," Emmaline reflects. "I had purchased Dolly just for the purpose of being a pet. However, Dolly's calm demeanour and the comfort she provided to people were evident from a very young age."
Dolly's natural inclination to provide solace to those around her became increasingly clear as she grew. She had an affinity for sitting on people's laps and offering gentle, reassuring cuddles. During gatherings with friends, Dolly would find her way to their laps and stay there, almost as if she knew the healing power of her presence.
"When we would have friends over, she would sit on their laps and sleep next to them all night," Emmaline recalls. "People would regularly stop to pat her during our walks, and she never failed to put smiles on people's faces."
It wasn't just her loving nature that set Dolly apart; she also displayed a remarkable ability to sense and respond to people's emotions. This became particularly evident during a difficult period in Emmaline's life when she lost her other dog to a fast-growing cancer.
"Dolly was a great comfort and companion to me throughout this time," Emmaline shares. "She seemed to understand my grief and stayed by my side, providing the kind of solace that only a true friend can offer."
But Dolly's empathy didn't end there. She had an uncanny knack for gravitating toward friends who were feeling low or had experienced a challenging day. On multiple occasions, Dolly would stay with a particular person all night, offering a soothing presence. Later, Emmaline would discover that those individuals had indeed been struggling.
"Through this," Emmaline notes, "I was able to see her potential and the incredible benefits she could bring to my therapy sessions and for participants with disabilities."
In Dolly's natural instinct to provide comfort and support, Emmaline recognised an opportunity to extend her loving impact beyond their home and into the lives of those who could benefit most from her presence. And so, the idea of transforming Dolly into a therapy dog took root, setting the stage for a heartwarming journey of healing and hope.
Touching hearts and uplifting spirits
While Dolly may have only recently received her official accreditation as a therapy dog, her heartwarming influence has already left an indelible mark on those fortunate enough to spend time with her during her training. Even before her official duties commenced, Dolly's innate ability to provide comfort and companionship became evident, particularly among school students.
During her training period, Dolly had the opportunity to interact with school students, and the impact she had on them was nothing short of remarkable. During break times, she would graciously offer her company, sitting patiently with one student or a group of them as they sought solace, a cuddle, or simply some furry companionship. It was as if Dolly possessed an innate understanding of their needs, bringing a sense of calm and reassurance during moments of uncertainty or distress.
"Dolly's presence during break times was truly heartwarming," Emmaline shares.
"She would sit with the students, allowing them to cuddle her and pat her as they worked through their challenges or navigated difficult emotions. Her gentle, caring nature provided a source of stability and warmth."
But it wasn't just her quiet presence that endeared Dolly to these young hearts.
Dolly had a talent for dancing, a playful display that never failed to elicit laughter and smiles from the students. Her joyful twirls and hops became a source of delight, reminding everyone that, sometimes, a little whimsy and playfulness can be the best remedy for a tough day.
"Dolly's dancing was like a burst of sunshine," Emmaline recalls with a grin. "The way she could make the students laugh and put a smile on their faces was truly heartening to witness."
It's clear that Dolly's journey as a therapy dog is not just about formal sessions and structured therapy. Her innate compassion and ability to connect with people, even in everyday moments, are a testament to her extraordinary potential to uplift and heal.
As Dolly prepares to embark on her official role in Altius Group's NDIS programs, there's no doubt that her presence will continue to be a beacon of hope and positivity for all who have the privilege of knowing her.
Adapting and enriching lives across diverse settings
Dolly's versatility as a therapy dog extends far beyond the bounds of a single setting. Her gentle nature and intuitive understanding of people's needs make her an ideal companion in various therapeutic scenarios. Whether she's in a nursing home, a hospital, a school, or an individual therapy session, Dolly effortlessly adapts to create a nurturing and uplifting atmosphere.
"In terms of settings, Dolly is truly a jack-of-all-trades," Emmaline explains.
"She can work in nursing homes, where her presence brings comfort to residents who may be missing their own pets or feeling a bit lonely. In hospitals, Dolly can provide solace to patients who are going through challenging medical treatments. And in schools, she's a source of joy and respite for students dealing with the stresses of academic life."
Dolly's ability to adapt to different types of people and environments is truly exceptional. She has an innate knack for sensing when someone is feeling anxious or down, and her solution is simple yet effective:
She sits on their lap and invites gentle pats and cuddles. The soothing rhythm of her heartbeat and her warm presence work wonders in alleviating stress and anxiety.
But Dolly's talents don't end there.
She can also dance on command, a charming skill that often brings smiles and laughter to those she encounters. In therapy sessions, this ability serves as a delightful icebreaker, helping to create a positive and relaxed atmosphere where participants feel more at ease sharing and connecting.
"Dolly's dancing is like a universal language of joy," Emmaline notes. "No matter where she is, whether it's in a therapy session or a hospital room, her dance can light up the room and lift spirits."
As Dolly embarks on her journey as an accredited therapy dog with Altius Group's NDIS team, her remarkable ability to adapt, comfort, and bring joy will undoubtedly continue to make a profound impact on individuals and participants of all ages. Her pawsitive presence is a reminder that, sometimes, healing and happiness can come from the simplest gestures of love and companionship.