Aged care residents in Mackay have received some relief from the loneliness created by the coronavirus pandemic, with the help of a four-legged therapist. 

Key points:

  • Sunni the spaniel is a therapy dog that visits aged care facilities in Mackay
  • Residents say the visits help fight loneliness and bring back memories of their own dogs 
  • Sunni is owned by psychologist Ros Ballantine who uses therapy animals in her work

Once a week, a friendly spaniel named Sunni visits residents at an aged care facility in the city, including those in the secure dementia wing.

For some of the residents, it can be the only affectionate contact they have with another living creature.

Aged care resident Elvie Fawcett said Sunni had a way of getting people out of their rooms.

“It brings joy to their faces. It gets the older people out,” Ms Fawcett said.

“Especially the men.

A woman and a dog perform tricks surrounded by elderly people watching on

Sunni and her owner Ros Ballantine do tricks for residents when they visit aged care facilities. (

ABC Tropical North: Tobi Loftus


Sunni’s owner Ros Ballantine, who is a psychologist and uses therapy animals in her work, said there was always a positive response to their visits.

“Coming here, the residents tell me and staff that they enjoy interacting with her,” she said.

A dog wearing a yellow vest walks towards the camera.

Sunni visits one aged care home in Mackay at least once a week. (

ABC Tropical North: Tobi Loftus


“They really look forward to our visits.”

“As a matter of fact, there are some who will only come to our therapy dog visits.”

Ms Ballantine said having a furry friend at the centre was very beneficial for mental health.

“There’s an element of loneliness in these institutions,” Ms Ballantine said.

“There are well-known benefits interacting with a gentle, friendly pet, including lessening depression and lifting spirits.

“A lot of residents have had to give up their dogs and look forward to having that moment of interaction when we come.

“I think it lifts their mood.”

Three people sit on chairs and pat a dog on the ground.

John Anderson (left) used to own a dog before he went into aged care, and says being with Sunni, alongside Colin Bell and Anne Crowley, brings back those memories. (

ABC Tropical North: Tobi Loftus


Resident John Anderson said he had to give his dog to his son when he moved into aged care.

“He was a 16-year-old little poodle who was a working dog on a truffle farm in Western Australia, believe it or not,” he said.

“I love seeing Sunni. She’s a gorgeous dog, such a friendly and clever little girl.”

Ms Ballantine said Sunni performed an important job.

“Just being able to interact and that sense of touch, it’s such an important thing to experience,” she said.

“Dogs fulfil that role really well.”


Sunni the Spaniel helps COVID loneliness in aged care homes
Source 1


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