Source: How a homeless blind dog named Benji transformed a Catholic aged care home
June 14, 2015
When Lisa Spencer was advised by the Sydney Dogs and Cats Home that the animal she was about to adopt was blind and missing all of his teeth, she reassured the shelter he was heading to a place where he would “fit right in”.
Three weeks ago, Benji became the 41st live-in resident at the St James Villa aged care facility, at Matraville, in Sydney’s south. At nine years of age – or 63 if you’re counting in dog years – he is by far the youngest member of his new family. And the most popular.
Staff all agree that, in an industry where loneliness is one of the biggest causes of death, the response to Benji’s arrival has been nothing short of “remarkable”. For residents like Sam George, 92, having a new mate has been the perfect tonic to a recent bout of deteriorating health that had doctor fearing the worst.
“He is a gorgeous little fella,” said Mr George of his new housemate. “Since Ben arrived, I got much better. I haven’t worried about anything.”
Ms Spencer, who is residential manager at the Catholic Healthcare home, said on a tour of “progressive” aged care facilities in Amsterdam she witnessed the benefits of pets for elderly people.
“It was an extraordinary set up, a really beautiful place to live and I returned home inspired,” she said.
During a subsequent visit to the Sydney Dogs and Cats Home, she was drawn to a pomeranian that weeks earlier, had been picked up by Randwick Council inspectors. While Benji wasn’t microchipped, the shelter’s Claire Garth said he must have belonged to someone. “He had undergone some pretty intensive vet care. All his teeth had been taken out,” she said. “He was also completely blind … so perhaps he reached a critical point for someone to manage.”
There were a few wrong turns and “bumps in the night” as Benji adjusted to his new surroundings. But after staff scented the centre of the facility’s corridors with lavender drops, he soon stopped “colliding” with walls. He now navigates safely around the home, making regular, random visits to residents’ rooms.
“I used to be quite depressed but now Benji is here, I am so happy,” resident Jean Bostwick, 70, said. “We walk together, he comes into my room. I lay down there with the pillow and he gets behind me and snuggles in. He’s adored by everyone.”
Ms Garth confirms it is the second permanent placement of its kind after a dog with separation anxiety was adopted by another nursing home. “You always have to find the right dog for the right environment. Had Benji not worked out, we were ready to keep trying with others. But there is just something so special about him. It is the perfect match.”