Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How soldiers are helping Sydney Dogs and Cats Home - and how dogs and cats are helping soldiers

Can animals and people help heal each other? The mutually beneficial relationship between humans and non-human animals is evident in aged-care facilities, hospices, hospitals and other settings.

This week we spoke to Warrant Officer Class Two (WO2), Jayne Morley, a Physical Training Instructor specialising in rehabilitation in the Australian Army. WO2 Morley has been in the army for 30 years, and has been a volunteer at Sydney Dogs and Cats Home (SDCH) for the past five years.
The Australian Army now has an arrangement to send injured soldiers to Sydney Dogs and Cats Home to volunteer. The benefits go both ways.
WO2 Morley spoke to us about the initiative.

What is your role?

I am a Physical Training Instructor specialising in rehabilitation posted to the Trainee Rehabilitation Wing (TRW) at Holsworthy Barracks. TRW is a facility which manages the rehabilitation of soldiers who have been injured through training, not through operational deployments. The soldiers referred to us have physical injuries and the average age is generally between 17 and 25 years of age. TRW manages on average 60 soldiers at one given time with the capacity of 84. 

The injuries the soldiers suffer range from stress fractures to lower limbs, varying injuries to hips, knees, ankle and soft tissue injuries, plus back and shoulders injuries. These injuries are commonly from a result in extra loads of carrying packs and increased physical output. Each soldier has completed their basic training in the army and/or has commenced their Initial Employment Training specific to their allocated Corps, and may have sustained injuries during this training. 

TRW holistically manages the soldiers with a team including a Medical Officer, Physiotherapists, Mental Health practitioners, external clinical specialist and Physical Trainers. The soldiers are managed administratively through a team of Army personal who provide military training and mentoring. TRW’s main focus is to return soldiers to their allocated corps or make recommendations for the best outcome for the soldier and Army.

What do they do?

TRW visit SDCH on a weekly basis on Wednesday afternoons from 1230 to 3pm. Each week, 11 injured soldiers and one staff member assist SDCH with any tasks required by the staff of SDCH, but ultimately to spend time with the animals including walking dogs or spending time with the cats and rabbits. On occasions the soldiers may be tasked to do more arduous tasks like cleaning, dismantling of old equipment or even area beautification, to which they are all eager to assist as it gives them a sense of purpose and achievement.

How do the soldiers benefit from this?

Visiting and supporting SDCH gives back to the community and develops a healthy relationship between the Australian Army and a charity organisation such as SDCH. Ultimately it is the “giving back” to animals in need which then redirects a sense of self focus. At the end of each shift SDCH has a survey which is provided to the soldiers which asks questions on individual’s motivation, mood and energy before and after, and what was the highlight of their shift. All surveys returned have been extremely positive with all soldiers extremely keen to continue volunteering.

Majority of soldiers enjoy getting away from the typical rehabilitation environment for an afternoon and getting out, walking the dogs and spending time with the animals. They also love to know of the adoption stories about the animals they have spent time with.

How do the animals benefit?

The animals are able to have the love and care they deserve and interact with people which aid in the animals socialisation with humans. A huge positive for the dogs is that they are able to get an additional walk and time out and away from their kennels providing them greater enrichment in their lives and to assist them in finding their forever homes.

Are there vets working in the army?

Yes Army does have employed Veterinarians. At the School of Military Engineering, Holsworthy Barracks there is a specialist wing for the training of Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD).TRW has an additional program where we “sign out” an EDD on a daily basis and bring to our workplace. This is a dog that is not currently in training, however provides excellent socialisation for the dogs and we provide the kennel manager feedback of the dog’s behaviour. It also benefits by providing a sense of responsibility for the soldiers to care and manage the dog in a working and training environment. THE EDD Cell have an appointed Vet on site for the necessary care of the dogs.

Thank you WO2 Morley. Meantime Sydney Dogs and Cats Home is seeking donations to build its new premises. You can find out more here