As published in That’s Life Magazine – Issue 43, by Samantha Ireland
Every Wednesday afternoon for the past two years I’ve walked to a house near mine to visit a very special friend. Sushi, a five-year-old Maltese x Shih-tzu, knows our routine and pops his little face through the fence in anticipation of my arrival.
‘Hello Sushi!’ I say, giving him a pat. ‘Are you ready for your walk?’
I volunteer for a not-for-profit organisation called Pets of Older Persons, or as it’s affectionately known, POOPS. Their catch cry is ‘Keeping pets and people together’, and volunteers help the elderly, disabled or those in palliative care with things such as dog walking, transport to the vet and grooming appointments.
I was 24 and at university when I heard about POOPS. Growing up, my family had cats but never a dog. I can help people and get my doggy fix at the same time! I thought. I started off walking two rescued greyhounds named Lizzy and Dizzy. Their lovely owner Anne had chronic arthritis and could no longer give them the exercise they needed. Five days a week, I’d go to Anne’s home, pick up Lizzy and Dizzy and take them for a walk.
Greyhounds don’t need as much exercise as you might think, so after our trot around the streets, Lizzy and Dizzy were more than happy to curl up in their beds by Anne’s feet and snooze for the rest of the day. When Anne eventually moved in with her family, her grandkids were able to walk Lizzy and Dizzy so she no longer needed help from POOPS.
I now work full-time as an occupational therapist, and my patients are elderly and recovering from things such as hip or knee replacements. I’ve referred quite a few of them to POOPS, so they can arrange for help with their pets while they’re recovering at home.
Sushi’s owner, Seham, has some mobility issues and can only take Sushi for a short wander out the front of their house. I like to make sure Sushi’s one big walk each week is special, so we head to the park where he can indulge in his favourite pastime – sniffing trees!
Seham is always so grateful when I bring him home. ‘Look at the smile on his face!’ Seham says. ‘Thank you so much, his walks make him so happy’.
It’s not just the owners who benefit, either. I did my honours research project on the benefits of older adults volunteering. Speaking to POOPS volunteers over 60, I found that not only did getting out and walking in the fresh air help their physical health, but volunteering also gave them back the sense of purpose that many reported losing after retirement.
I may not have as much free time as I did when I was at uni, but helping Seham and Sushi stay together makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.