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The Magic of Animal-Assisted Interaction

Updated: 7 days ago

✦ The well-worn phrase ‘a dog is a man’s best friend’ is one that everyone knows and most people would agree with. Loyal to the hilt, dogs are not only great companions but also have an uncanny ability for care, to unite and inspire wellbeing by decreasing stress.

Brilliant Online’s CEO Veronica Lind recently caught up with an organisation in Singapore that is engaging our four-legged friends to do exactly that.

Animal-Assisted Interactions Singapore (aaisg) is the city state’s first non-profit organisation that seeks “meaningful and life-giving interactions between humans and animals, working and growing towards better, healthier communities, together... comprising education, training, services, programmes, research and professional guidelines.” Founded by Adele Lau in 2022, aaisg specialises in a customised range of animal-assisted programmes and services for different groups, be it working with youth-at-risk, individuals with special needs or providing care and companionship for the elderly.

Animal-Assisted Interactions Singapore (AAISG) | Brilliant Online Australia Singapore UK | Brilliant Online

Veronica caught up with two of aaisg’s handlers Yvette Quek and Mark Greaves (and their dogs Vera and Bentley) and managed to get the low down on the fabulous work they do.

Mark and Bentley relocated to Singapore from Melbourne three years ago. Prior to the move they were involved with animal-assisted programmes in schools for several years, teaching students from Kindergarten to Grade Four how to say hello and interact safely around dogs. Singapore resident Yvette and seven-year-old Vera have been involved in animal-assisted activities for close to five and a half years with teenagers and the elderly. “Vera is a very active dog whose favourite thing is playing ball, so interacting with the teenagers is something she especially likes,” explains Yvette. Vera equally enjoys her time with the more senior folk, which Yvette likens to a form of exercise for them due to the mental and physical stimulation of throwing the ball, and trying to outsmart Vera in the process.

Animal-Assisted Interactions Singapore (AAISG) | Brilliant Online Australia Singapore UK | Brilliant Online

Canine Companionship

While the programmes are customised, visits tend to take a very familiar approach. “We will normally come in and introduce ourselves and our dogs, then meet and greet everyone individually,” Mark explains. “Usually the participants will then pet the dog, maybe have them on their lap and generally just have a chat. Many of the seniors don’t speak much English but that is one of the beauties of canine companionship in that language doesn’t matter.”

Games are a big part of the programme, for the participants and the dogs themselves! “We’ll usually start off throwing the ball, playing fetch,” says Yvette. “However, these are two smart dogs that know their own balls so we will sometimes organise games with the seniors where they will guess whether Vera and Bentley will end up collecting the right ball or not. The dogs always win but it is great fun that brings much joy to everyone. Similarly, we will play ‘Doggy Bingo’ and other customised games that allow the dogs to really interact with the seniors.” 

This uncanny ability to connect has seen many previously reserved parties become actively involved with the dogs on the programme, and, in turn, with other people. “At Montfort Care Marine Parade last year, there was one particular lady who just did not want to join in with the normal group progammes within the home,” Mark says. “She was reluctant to join in with us at first, but after six weeks she was playing with the dogs and had become so much more sociable with the other residents, forming little groups for regular catch ups. It’s heartwarming to see such positive change within people.”

Similarly, there are people who state they are afraid of dogs and who are very reluctant to interact, Yvette explains. However, more often than not after a few sessions, such fears are allayed. “Once such people actually spend time with the dogs and get to know them, pet them and so on, they typically overcome any apprehension and are a lot more comfortable.” 

A Special Kind Of Dog

Just like with people, it takes a special kind of dog to engage in such a way. “Having the right temperament is key,” Mark explains. “They’ve got to be really good with other dogs and unfamiliar people. They’ve got to be calm and be able to master basic obedience training, being able to sit and stay on cue, when to collect and drop items. During a home visit, there may be an item on the floor that we don’t want the dog taking, such as medicine, for example, so obedience is very important. This also applies to being responsibly non-reactive to loud noises and other distractions, such as with wheelchairs in care homes.”

Bentley and Vera clearly tick these boxes and are very smart. “Bentley knows when it’s time for work,” Mark says with a smile. “I have to be careful not to get ready too early by putting on my uniform as he knows what it means and gets very excited! However, once we are in the car and on the way he becomes very relaxed. You can tell he loves what he does and is so comfortable doing it.”
Yvette agrees. “If we go longer than a week without a visit it is almost as if Vera is asking me why and when is the next one,” she says with a chuckle. “As soon as I put my uniform on and the bandana on Vera switches into work mode and is ready. She absolutely loves it!”
Animal-Assisted Interactions Singapore (AAISG) | Brilliant Online Australia Singapore UK | Brilliant Online

The stimulation via engagement for the dogs is a major plus, Yvette explains. “It’s good for them because they socialise with other dogs and people. I think a common mistake many dog owners make is that they don’t socialise their dogs. You’ve got to introduce them to a whole variety of experiences, be it young kids, old people, old dogs, young dogs, just different situations.”

Ultimately, making a positive impact is the most important thing, Mark says. “The dogs meet people who need cheering up. They go in, interact and provide a lot of physical and emotional support. And it is a mutually-beneficial dynamic as the dogs and I enjoy it too. I am retired but this allows me to meet people and make new friends. I find that when I give my time like this it brings a lot of joy for me because I am trying very hard to bring happiness to the people that I meet. Trying to make a difference is key and it’s good to give back to the community. It’s very much a win-win situation for me. And Bentley loves it too!”

While the programme has proven successful in a couple of Singapore’s international schools, the next goal is to expand into local schools, an area that has been previously somewhat reluctant. “I met several students outside of the classroom who had been through our programmes and became confident, respectful and comfortable around dogs and there’s nothing better to see,” he says proudly. 

Man’s best friend should expect nothing less after all.

🐕 Read our other canine-inspired Brilliant stories! 🐩


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