Did you know the companionship of a dog can be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety?

Therapy dog ‘Amie’ works at Anglicare's mental health facility in Rocherlea, Launceston.

We’ve recently welcomed therapy dog ‘Amie’ to the Anglicare team to work at our mental health facility in Rocherlea, Launceston.

Studies have shown specially trained therapy dogs bring benefits for people experiencing mental health issues.

“Simply sitting stroking a dog can give people a chance to relax and calm their minds, “said Kathy Rodis, a clinical consultant at Rocherlea. “This can even reduce blood pressure”.

At two years of age, Amie is now a fully qualified therapy dog, trained by Melbourne’s K9 Support. His role is to provide comfort and companionship, and he was purchased with funds raised through Anglicare’s Winter Appeal.

Amie has an innate ability to know if someone needs a helping paw and will actually navigate his handler to them.

“Intuition is something that cannot be trained,” said Simone Wells, Rocherlea Coordinator and now Amie’s primary handler. “This is what sets Amie apart from your average dog. He’s been especially bred for the job”.

His name is inspired by the French term ‘mon amie’ which means ‘my friend’.

Amie is gradually being introduced to his new role. Because of the big changes in his life there’s a need to take things slowly. He’s met all the staff and is beginning to get to know the people supported at Rocherlea.

“Having Amie around is already making a difference,” said Simone. “As he meets people you can see a change in their manner. Rather than being withdrawn or heightened, people naturally relax and are more themselves.”

There are set rules everyone needs to follow to keep Amie’s skills sharp.

“For a start you have to tell him to sit before he’s allowed to get a pat from you,” said Simone. “And you need to invite him before he can hop on your lap. Plus, when he’s in his crate, you’re not allowed to pat him through the bars. This is his safe place.”

People are also not allowed to feed him. This is something only Simone and Kathy, who is his secondary handler, can do. Even then, they can only feed him from his food bowl and never from their hands. Amie’s diet is fairly strict so he can keep in shape (he is a Labrador after all). But he is allowed a few treats. Amie lives with Simone and her family including their pet dog Rex (a gentle Great Dane cross).

Before K9 Support officially handed Amie over to Anglicare, they first made sure he would be properly cared for. Simone and Kathy, not only received intensive training, but both Simone’s home and Rocherlea were inspected for suitability.

“All of the investment K9 Support devotes to training therapy dogs can be undone if the rules aren’t strictly followed,” explained Simone. “If they’re not properly cared for therapy dogs can ‘break’ and no longer be able to do their job”.

Amie began his training when he was just a tiny pup.

He’s spent time in Victorian courts learning how to be a victim support dog and also with the Federal Police in their offices.

During his working days, Amie needs to take regular breaks. Simone and Kathy have learnt to recognise the small signs that he’s feeling stressed. He loves his work but it is intense and requires him to concentrate for long periods.

Although Amie enjoys being on the job, it’s not all work and no play. “Amie’s been trained to understand that when his jacket is on, he’s working,” explained Simone. “But when his jacket’s off, it’s play time and his whole manner changes. He bounds with energy”.

Like most labs, Amie loves to play fetch, but “he also likes watching us humans get his ball when he can’t be bothered to go pick it up. He’s definitely not short on personality,” laughed Simone.

Learn more about Anglicare’s Mental Health Services.

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