Children in need are now enjoying the benefits of pet therapy thanks to a determined charity and support from the Lions Community 100 initiative.
After 25 years service to the Penrith, NSW, community, Nepean Therapy Dogs will this year unveil their biggest addition yet: Baron the Neapolitan Mastiff. “We’re in the middle of training the biggest dog in Australia!” says president Nicole Celeban with a laugh. “He’s a really, really huge dog! He’s the sweetest thing.”
A registered charity that relies on public donations, Nepean Therapy Dogs have a team of more than 30 volunteers who take trained dogs into schools, hospitals, aged-care and palliative care facilities, where they help spread joy to those who are struggling. Baron will join a cocker spaniel and golden retriever, a couple of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and a Chihuahua. “From the smallest to the biggest,” says Nicole.
In late 2016, the organisation received a Lions Community 100 grant, which has helped it expand services for children in need. “Initially we started off only visiting hospitals and nursing homes, that was our main focus,” says Nicole. “But we knew we needed to draw children in as well. We wanted to give them a safe environment and feel loved and included – to feel that they matter. Sometimes just sitting with a dog is enough to relieve that. The grant from Lions really got things started.”
Aimed at children 6-18 years, the Nepean Therapy Dogs Child Reading and Dog Training Program comprises two streams: We-Read, where younger kids sit and read books with the dogs, and We-Train, which provides adolescents an opportunity to walk and work with the dogs. All services are carefully supervised and free.
“When I read all the applicants for Community 100, this one really stood out,” says Steve Gault, secretary and bulletin editor of the Penrith Lions Club. “It’s something that can really assist in so many aspects for people in the community, whether they’re suffering hardships that are mental or physical.”
Steve, who has been with Lions since 2009, was one of around half a dozen of the 18 Penrith Lions Club members who presented Nicole and her team with the $1000 cheque. The money was used to purchase books, seating and storage shelves.
We-Read sessions take up to an hour and the kids are, “encouraged to pick their own books and read at their own time,” says Nicole. “A couple of the dogs do listen intently and the kids just love them. They like being at peace with them and not being under any kind of pressure.”
Penrith Lions has since raised a further $200 to Neapean Therapy Dogs, with more money from the Donation Box earmarked for the organisation. “We chat with the club regularly,” says Nicole. “They’re a great bunch of people.”
The feeling is mutual. “I personally hadn’t heard of the organisation until the Community 100 project,” says Steve. “Being in Lions really opens your eyes to what goes on in the community. We’re now looking at hosting some joint meetings, inviting other clubs and laying some seeds to help spread the word about what they’re doing.”
For more information on Nepean Therapy Dogs, call 0427 393 699 or visit therapydogs.com.au. To contact Penrith Lions, call (02) 4730 3414 or visit penrithlions.lionwap.org
Story courtesy of Country Style Magazine