Dr Lauren Roche is a GP at Bush Rd, and works two mornings a week at Kamo Home. Here she writes about Charlotte Lane who uses pets as therapy pets. The two women met while working in the dementia unit at Kamo Home


Charlotte Lane says she has the best job in the world. Three years ago she began taking animals into residential homes and dementia units to visit and be petted by the residents.

Charlotte's business, Pets Assisting Therapy, or PAT, was inspired by her grandmother's illness.

"My grandma always used to live with us. When she got dementia she stayed at home for as long as she could. When we did eventually have to move her into a rest home she really missed seeing and caring for the animals.

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"I started taking our pets to go and see her. At first it was only a lamb wearing a nappy or a rabbit; but the idea for my small business eventuated from there."

Charlotte now visits residents in rest homes and dementia units across Northland, bringing joy and companionship with her in the form of lambs, baby goats, a tiny bristly piglet, rabbits, guinea pigs, a parakeet and a fledgling lovebird.

The rabbits and guinea pigs are transported, nestled in straw, in a child's red cart.

Charlotte has loved animals since she was small. When she left school she studied vet nursing and worked at pet goods and services store Animates before moving into disability care and then starting her business.

She says her animals are all tested to see how they will react in certain situations.

"They are extensively handled before going to visit the rest homes. When they do visit they always sit on their blankets as it makes them feel more secure to have all of their body supported. The blankets are great to catch any accidents too."

Most animals can be trained to do animal therapy. However not every one is suitable; just like humans they all have different natures and temperaments.

The PAT pets travel together, yet there is no obvious rivalry, jealousy, or antagonism between them.

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The kitten and caboodle, some of the therapy pets.
The kitten and caboodle, some of the therapy pets.

"Most animals can be trained to get along, especially if introduced young enough. However, there are always a few that won't like being with the others. I've had years of experience working with animals, and this has definitely helped me learn how to manage them.

''As well as my vet nurse training, being brought up on a farm helped heaps."

Watching Charlotte and her animals interact with the residents in a local dementia unit is a joyful experience. The animals, all securely nestled in their blankets, are admired, stroked and petted.

Things slow down: staff, visitors and residents all take turns at stroking, feeding and talking to the pets.

A woman with Alzheimer's disease who no longer communicates verbally coos at a baby lovebird as she feeds it with an eye dropper. She is more animated than she has been all week.

Rabbits are stroked, Roxie the friendly staffie waggles her rear ecstatically at the attention. A tiny piglet snuffles at a resident's hand. The animals seem to love the contact as much as the humans do.

Charlotte manages her pets so they have play as well as work. They always have at least one day off after visiting a rest home.

"My favourite part of doing the visits is when residents come out of their room to see the pets when they won't come out for any other activity, including meals.

''It's a beautiful sight seeing someone chatting away to the birds or telling the rabbit how soft their fur is or what nice eyes they have. Our visits provide the residents with a bit of joy and excitement. Putting a smile on someone's face is really special.

"I honestly think I have the world's best job."

(Pets Assisting Therapy: www.petsassistingtherapy.com)