Sophie's the best medicine

ROSE CAWLEY
Last updated 05:00 20/02/2013
Avril Bevins and Sophie
Rose Cawley
PERFECT PARTNERSHIP: Avril Bevins takes Sophie to Lansdowne Hospital and Rest Home as part of the Outreach Pet Therapy programme.

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An elderly resident coos and calls after the big white dog lumbering past her room at Lansdowne Hospital and Rest Home.

It happens to be Minnie McCarthy's first day at the Botany facility and seeing Sophie has made the process warm and comforting.

Avril Bevins says responses like that are the reason she volunteers with Outreach Pet Therapy.

Mrs Bevins and her pyrenean mountain dog Sophie have been visiting rest homes, hospitals and special needs events for five years as part of the programme.

Their partnership has brought many smiles to people on their darkest days.

"Sophie has big soft eyes, a lot of hair and the temperament for it - these dogs are known worldwide as gentle giants.

"If people like dogs they love Sophie."

Outreach Therapy Pets programme is jointly run by charitable organisations St John and the SPCA.

The aim is to bring comfort, love and companionship to those who spend time in hospitals and nursing homes through regular visits from animals.

Mrs Bevins was flicking through the paper more than eight years ago when she saw an advert for pet therapy and thought "why not do that".

Her daughter breeds the striking white dogs and agreed their docile manner would suit the job.

Mrs Bevins says she hasn't looked back since - Sophie is the third dog she has put through the programme.

She describes her as "a bit in your face" and the endearing canine certainly enjoys being the centre of attention.

"I just get dragged around as Sophie goes looking for people to cuddle her and tell her she is beautiful."

Lansdowne event co-ordinator Hariata Sadler says the best thing Sophie does is make the residents smile.

"They reach out and touch her fur, they look into her eyes and talk to her about everything and anything."

She says it also brings an activity and social interaction into the rooms of bedridden residents.

"It is really special for the residents, it brightens their day because Sophie makes them feel like she loves them no matter what.

"Pet therapy is just the best, the best medicine for our residents."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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