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 is being done for some of their appeal recipients. It also serves to promote the work Variety Queensland do out and about within the community for children with special needs and illnesses.
There are currently approximately 40 volunteers on the Variety Therapy Dog Team. There are two training locations being Logan Central and Broadbeach. Initially all training was conducted by Craig and Tracey Murray but we now have a trainer (Kelly Fitzpatrick) that donates her time to train both the teams to ensure best practice. The team is made up of very generous pet owners with extremely reliable and social dogs that have a great outlook on life. For the last year and a half volunteers have attended fortnightly 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.
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 as a requirement. There are also policies and procedures that each volunteer must adhere to before they are able to attend visits. We also have two 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 use our visits to aged care facilities to 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 it is a fantastic way of maintaining the dog’s behaviours between special school visits. It also allows our volunteer dog handlers to practice the tricks that they have taught their dogs as part of a show that they usually do for the children in the special schools. It doesn’t matter if our visits are to 8 year olds or 80 year olds… the Variety 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!