Residents of Vinnies crisis accommodation, Samaritan House, are enjoying the comfort and joy a dog brings with the introduction of puppies to the place.

Chris Shortis, Director of Special Works with the St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn, initiated the trial to offer companionship to men with complex needs.

‘Samaritan House offers short term accommodation to men over 18 in crisis. They may have mental health challenges, be coming out of correctional services, or be transitioning from homelessness.

‘Having the dogs here makes it feel like home. Dogs provide no judgement; they will love you regardless,’ said Chris.

‘Animals do break down barriers. Sometimes men are uncomfortable entering the House and the dogs provide an ice breaker,’ she added.

There are currently four dogs that access the house. Charli the spoodle is one of them. Charli belongs to Krystal Reid, a case manager at Samaritan House, and has been visiting the House regularly for about eight months.

‘Charli gives the men comfort, and something to talk about,’ said Krystal.

‘She makes them feel human again, providing some comfort in dark times or lonely times. She plays ball with the guys and melts hearts wherever she goes,’ Krystal added.

‘Charli picks up on things – she will put her head on their leg and keep an eye on them, and then she’ll come back and then she’ll go around again. She picks up when people are having hard days, and we’ve had feedback that she’s really helped some men get through dark times,’ said Chris.

‘She loves coming to work. She doesn’t like being alone at home. We recently lost another dog, and losing her companion was sad for her, so having the chance to come in and have a full time job has been really great for her. She thoroughly enjoys it, and loves the men,’ said Krystal.

‘They take her out for walks, and buy her blankets and treats. The love and care they give her is reward for her efforts,’ she added.

 ‘The dogs do need to have a break, though, so Charli goes home with Krystal. She does get tired, she needs a rest. She has one day off a week because she needs to recuperate,’ Chris said.

The role animals play in providing comfort and compassion to people experiencing social isolation is well documented, with many hospitals and nursing homes allowing animal visitation.

‘Dogs provide unconditional love and companionship. These dogs are really well looked after. The men care for them and prioritise them. It’s the same as when you see someone on the streets with a dog. Those dogs are usually very well cared for and loved. Sometimes they’re the only friend that person has,’ said Chris.

‘They bring communities together.’

6 May 2019