When Kerri-Ann Tinkler knows that Brooklyn is on the way to Radius Care Ohaupo rest home, she knows the arrival of the big dog will produce waves of pleasure for her residents.
Brooklyn is a Himalayan Mountain Dog, a big (they can weigh up to 40kg) ball of fluff and placidity whose calm nature and willingness to receive as many pats as they can dish out, excites the Radius residents.
"They just love to pat and stroke her and you can see the beneficial effects the dog has on them," says Tinkler, a diversional therapist. "They are all smiles and even the dementia residents and those who usually stick to themselves come out of themselves – and they talk to her. It's great to see."
However, Radius doesn't restrict animal visitors to dogs or cats. Tinkler says the home was visited by a calf and the owner (who had entered it in a calf club competition). The calf made itself at home in the garden of the home while residents flocked to see it and stroke it.
"It was amazing," says Tinkler. "The calf was so calm and submitted happily to being patted. I noticed, too, that it provoked some memories in the dementia patients, as these visits often do. One of the dementia residents said she remembered having a calf at calf club two – and won two red ribbons.
"It's so good for them to feel like that and to remember times of pleasure in their lives."
Nor does the list of animal visitors stop there. Last year, the New Zealand Herald ran a story on Woolamina, the little lamb who won many hearts at Radius Care's New Plymouth home.
At the time, a Radius activities co-ordinator said it was an example of the benefit pets or animals can have for people in rest homes: "They are able to give people something we can't; everyone needs someone to love and animals can provide that, they don't feel threatened by them. We are very animal-friendly here.
"Some of the residents have cats, another has a dog and our in home hairdresser brings her dog on Wednesdays. We find animals reduce stress, our residents are happier and more relaxed around them."
The effect of pets and animals on the elderly and infirm has been well documented. Various international studies and research have shown that animals promote reductions in stress and blood pressure in the elderly – and help ease depression.
"You can almost see it happening," says Tinkler. "The residents are so quick to respond – it makes them far more sociable, even those who usually don't interact as much."
For those who move into aged care with pets, the benefits can be even greater. Animals encourage routine, especially for feeding and exercise; they keep the owner more active and more sociable – as they encourage others to greet the animal and owner.
It goes even further than that. In New Zealand Massey University School of Health Sciences associate professor Dr Mary Breheny has been reported as saying residents in aged care facilities often feel like they are at the receiving end of help rather than being able to give it back.
"But if they have a pet to look after (even if it is helping with a pet that already lives in the facility) they feel valued," she says. US-based nursing pressure group, Nursebuff, says pets give elderly a shift in focus to positive thoughts and healthy distractions
In Australia, Dr Janette Young, a researcher at the University of South Australia, last year made a submission to Australia's aged care royal commission, calling for more aged care homes to allow residents to keep pets.
She says pets provide companionship, social interaction and a sense of purpose that may otherwise be lacking: "A 2018 Animal Welfare League report found that only 18 per cent (in Australia) of residential aged care facilities allowed residents to live with a pet – this despite all the evidence showing how important the human-animal bond is to people, perhaps even more so as they age."
Tinkler says Brooklyn is a member of Canine Friends, a group which specialises in pet therapy and which trains the dogs carefully so they don't jump up on the elderly: "Some of the residents have such sensitive skin; they could be damaged if the dog jumps up so they always train them never to do that.
"And the rewards are plain to see."