Innovative Dapto preschool St Luke's to have Labradoodle pup Harvey trained as a mental health therapy dog for staff and children

Positive pup: St Luke's Preschool's Blake Stewart, Matthew Signarella and Vikki Shaw with new team member Harvey. Picture: Adam McLean.
Positive pup: St Luke's Preschool's Blake Stewart, Matthew Signarella and Vikki Shaw with new team member Harvey. Picture: Adam McLean.

When Harvey the Labradoodle arrived at St Luke's Preschool, Dapto three months ago he was an instant hit with the 22 staff as well as all the children and their families.

So much so his photo and name is already featured on the team member poster near the entrance.

Harvey is being trained as a mental health therapy dog after St Luke's submitted an innovative idea to the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) when it launched a Recovery Boost initiative as part its Recover at Work program to inspire solutions to improving mental health in the workplace.

Director Blake Stewart said the culture at St Luke's was for all the team to proactively dream big and come up with new ideas. So when they heard about grant funding for innovative ideas to help improve mental health in the workplace a therapy dog was something they had already been thinking about as something that could benefit everyone.

Harvey's arrival as a one month old pup in April coincided with NSW going into COVID-19 lockdown. And the positive impact of his presence was seen straight away. Therapy dog training won't start until Harvey turns one. Presently he is doing puppy school and agility training to build his puppy skills and social interaction with other dogs.

Mr Stewart said St Luke's chose a Labradoodle because they are less likely to affect children with allergies or hay fever.

"Our staff nominate when they would like to take Harvey home. They are encouraged to take him for walks which also help their well-being," he said.

During the day staff also take him out for toilet breaks and walks. And once he is trained he will help comfort children if they are having a melt down, suffering from anxiety or have a special need. From the beginning of 2021 all the children will be given dog safety training.

Mr Stewart said Harvey is already having a very calming affect on everyone and he can see how many different workplaces could benefit from having such a team member. Harvey will also help Anglicare with its mental health service.

Mr Stewart said staff area already providing feedback to SIRA which also funded a trauma informed yoga initiative for NSW Police and a company creating virtual interactive media work places can use to help people talk about mental health issues. A second round of funding has been launched and SIRA is keen to hear more innovative ideas by August 8.

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This story Innovative Dapto preschool to have Labradoodle trained as mental health therapy dog first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.