Working like a dog

WA’s public prosecution office has received backlash after their contract for a therapy dog, costing $162,000 over three years, as part of their staff wellbeing program.

Ariza Nel is a dog trainer and owner of Perth Canine Craft and says people need to understand training a therapy dog takes time and money.

“There’s a lot of benefits of a therapy dog, but people need to make sure they understand there is work involved and that includes consistency, which some people aren’t willing to do.

“I think it’s fabulous, but it comes at a price,” she says.

Tony the workplace Groodle at Interface Orthotics in West Perth. Photo: Grace Burmas.

Ms Nel says therapy dogs are trained to fulfill specialised needs of the handler, like waking them up from a nightmare or grounding them when they become disassociated.

She says therapy dogs in the workplace provide companionship.

“We all know how good it is to pet a dog, but it also forces people to take breaks, because puppies for example will need more potty breaks, so it’s a great way to force yourself to get away from your job and taking them outside.

“Then you’re more relaxed and you can get back into your work at a better state of mind because you’ve recharged a bit,” Ms Nel says.

Joanne Carmichael of Interface Orthotics introducing Tony. Video: Grace Burmas.

Joanne Carmichael is the practice manager at Interface Orthotics in West Perth and brings her Groodle, called Tony, to the clinic every day.

For the past three years Tony has come to work five days a week and Ms Carmichael says the office staff and clients are better because of it. 

“The clients all love him, and it really puts the kids at ease, sometimes they come in and they’re a bit unsure or a bit frustrated.

“We have a lot of kids with disabilities and come into a new surrounding and they aren’t very comfortable and then Tony comes along and helps cheer them up,” she says.

Statistics on the appeal of pets for men and women. Photo: Grace Burmas.

Ms Carmichael supports the choice of the prosecution office and says more workplaces should implement companion or therapy dogs.

“I’m not in any rush to go home every day because I have my dog with me already, so I’m more productive, I’m happier, I think all the staff are more productive, he just really lifts the mood,” she says.

“We really should start a movement to allow all dogs in offices.”

Local dog owners explaining the positive impact of their pets. Video: Grace Burmas.

Ms Nel says it’s important to remember therapy dogs in the workplace are there for a specific purpose.

“It’s still work so therefore they need the emotional intelligence to be able to deal with the amount of stress that it brings on.

“People think cuddles and all that is fun, but the dog actually has to be in a certain mental state and hyper-vigilant state to be there when their handler needs help,” she says.

Ms Nel says consideration needs to take place before an office implements a therapy dog.

“One thing you need to remember is that some people don’t like dogs, some people are allergic, so I think it would be nice, but will you need to ask will it be effective, and will it be practical?”

Categories: General, Mental Health

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