The Variety Therapy Dog Team was formed towards the end of 2015 by Craig and Tracey Murray in association with Variety Queensland The Children’s Charity. The initial concept came about after a long-established Therapy Dog Team that had been operating on the Gold Coast for many years had to disband. This left a void in the community and the thought of being able to assist whilst also using a therapy dog team to promote the relationship between dogs and people, also to highlight the work of the Variety Assistance Dogs was very beneficial.
It usually takes between one to two years to train and place an assistance dog and the time in between placements can feel long winded so to have a team of volunteers out and about doing therapy visits within the community and spreading the word of the importance of the relationships between people and dogs meant that Variety Queensland were bringing recognition to the work that was being done for some of their appeal recipients. It also served to promote the work Variety Queensland do out and about within the community for children with special needs and illnesses. There were over 40 volunteers on the Variety Therapy Dog Team but due to a lack of funding, that team eventually disbanded in 2017.
The demand for visits from Therapy Dogs didn't diminish, in fact it was in even higher demand so Craig and Tracey Murray decided to form a new Therapy Dog Team under their Service Dog Charity 'Empower Assistance Dogs'. It didn't take long to re-establish and of course the reputation from their previous team saw the Therapy Dog visits in high demand yet again. This time they have done it differently. There are different services that are all offered under the Empower Therapy Team banner.
Volunteer Therapy Dog Handlers and their Therapy Dogs are able to provide visits to aged care facilities, both mainstream and special schools, day care or after hour care facilities, workplaces, conferences etc. These visits may be a one-off visit for a corporate event or they may be regular scheduled visits to a workplace. Many workplaces are now enlisting the services of our Therapy Dog Teams to ensure better mental health for their staff within the workplace. We also have large corporations enlist the services of our Therapy Dog Teams for corporate events - rather than giving out marketing material, they are choosing to give attendees an experience by being able to interact with our Therapy Dogs. This also ensures the Company are providing an environmentally friendly attendance at a conference by limiting the additional paper and plastics that often are handed out for marketing purposes. Attendees are very impressed by their social commitment and environmental message therefore being more likely to support or promote that particular business. Having a Therapy Dog on their stand also ensures a higher on site attendance due to the attraction of the dog.
We also have Facility Dogs on the team. A Facility Dog is still a dog offering therapy but that particular dog doesn't visit a wide range of different venues, rather it works with the handler in the same venue/s each time. This may be a health, medical or dental practice or even a school.
The Empower Therapy Dog Handlers attend training with their dogs to ensure that their dogs remain social to animals, other dogs and people and that they are developed to learn a range of tricks that they can put in place when they visit special schools or attend events if required.
They are also tested on emergency procedures with their dogs for safety. Our volunteers give us the precious gift of their time and dedication to this team. Every dog accepted onto the team must initially be assessed for suitability. This means they are identified to have the desired attributes to ensure reliability in a variety of situations that they might find themselves in when working with children with special needs who might not have great social skills when interacting with dogs, and they also must be reliable to work alongside a variety of different dogs and keep their focus on the job at hand. Each volunteer handler must have their current blue card and each Therapy Dog candidate must undergo a veterinary check to ensure premium health as just a couple of the basic requirements. There are also policies and procedures that each volunteer must adhere to before they are able to attend visits. We also have team mentors that were our first team members that support and assist team members when first starting out on their visits.
To ensure the dogs are put into a broad range of situations, we proof our team dogs to unusual situations. When doing aged care visits, it is not unusual for the residents of the facilities to cuddle the dogs very intensely. Usually we need to pry the dogs from the laps or arms of the residents so the Therapy Dog Handlers must always be ready for the unexpected which is why the dogs also need to be very stable in their temperaments and behaviour. It doesn’t matter if our visits are to 8 year olds or 80 year olds… the Empower Therapy Dog Team make a difference to the people they visit. You only need to watch the faces of the attendees to see the joy this team of volunteers and their dogs bring with each visit that they do!