A Prescription for Pooch – Cheye Paoli Leads Animal Assisted Therapy Program at BRHS

Basil with BRHS patient Bailey. Photo by Jake Lynch/BRHS

 

There’s something inspiring about being around someone who is genuinely in love with what they do.

They’re not just doing a job; they’re actually following their passion, and you can tell.

It’s like that with Cheye Paoli.

The BRHS’ Speech Pathologist is still in the early stages of her career, but she seems to have already found that sweet spot in her life and work that so many of us seek, where personal interest, professional expertise and the potential to do good all intersect.

Meet Basil and Polly.

These two Standard Poodles are the linchpins of an innovative program here at BRHS known as “animal-assisted therapy.”

Research shows that the presence of the dogs increases levels of dopamine and oxycontin, and reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels. Basically, it makes people happier and calmer. For people with acquired communications disorders, being in a happier and calmer state is really beneficial.

For Cheye, the dogs’ owner and trainer, Basil and Polly are a crucial tool in her speech therapy treatment of people struggling with communications disorders.

When we visited Cheye, Basil and Polly on Tuesday, they were working with Bailey, a young guy that had a lot of difficulty communicating and dealing with common social situations, particularly in moments of stress or discomfort.

Their therapy that day consisted of Bailey taking over the role of trainer, issuing firm commands to the eager pooches to “sit” and “stay,” and directing them expertly through a long tunnel and over a jump.

On other days Bailey will lead Basil and Polly throughout the hospital, introducing them to people they meet along the way.

According to Bailey’s mother, Toni, these moments represent a marked improvement in Bailey’s ability to speak clearly and communicate confidently.

“Since he began with the dogs, there’s been a definite improvement,” she said.

The science behind the effect that the dogs have on patients like Bailey has to do with reducing the physiological stress indicators that can disrupt a person’s ability to think clearly and respond appropriately to things happening around them.

“Since he began with the dogs, there’s been a definite improvement.”

Cheye, who is currently working on her Masters thesis in animal-assisted therapy in speech pathology practice, is following closely the global research around animal assisted therapy, just as she observes the real life effect it is having on her own patients here in Bairnsdale.

“What research shows is that the presence of the dogs increases levels of dopamine and oxycontin, and reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels, resulting in a generalised suppression of the sympathetic nervous system,” she says. “Basically, it makes people happier and calmer. And for people with, for instance, acquired communications disorders, being in a happier and calmer state is really beneficial.”

Interestingly, the role of the dogs changes depending on the needs of the patient.

“For Bailey, Basil and Polly are integral parts of his therapy, in that they are the focal point of his sessions and he actively works with them,” Cheye explains. “But for a patient with dementia, for example, the dogs provide a sense of unconditional acceptance and non-judgement just by being in the room.”

Though a range of animals could be suitable for animal assisted therapy, dogs are used most frequently, due in part to the fact that many people are familiar and comfortable with a dog, and they have an inherently sociable and non-judgmental nature. (Dogs 1, Cats 0.)

An additional benefit of the Standard Poodle is that, in addition to being remarkably calm and friendly, they are also largely hypoallergenic. (No dog is completely allergy free, but these ones are pretty close.)

In the 12 months or so that Basil and Polly have been visiting BRHS, they have fast become beloved members of the Allied Health team.

“I think they give as much therapy to the staff as they do the patients,” Cheye jokes.

All dog owners – now’s the time to go give your pooch and big cuddle and a crispy piece of bacon.

For more information about BRHS’ Animal Assisted Therapy program, you can contact Cheye at cheye.paoli@brhs.com.au