Beloved therapy dog Deena to retire after 10 years comforting Bega's elderly

 "As soon as she arrives she gives me licks - she is a lovely girl."  Deena lays down at Zoe's feet and licks her hands. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

"As soon as she arrives she gives me licks - she is a lovely girl." Deena lays down at Zoe's feet and licks her hands. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

Hillgrove House Nursing Home residents are sitting in the lounge room transfixed by the television. 

Violin superstar Andre Rieu is on the screen swaying majestically performing "You'll never walk alone" to a tearful adoring audience in Vienna. Just as the "King of Waltz" draws his bow across the violin, the living room door opens and  suddenly all eyes turn towards the door and the maestro seems to disappear in a puff of smoke. 

The attention has moved on to another star - Deena. Tail wagging, she moves from person to person giving each one a moment's attention before heading off down the hallway for her usual private room visits. 

If somebody is sick she will lay beside them. She does different things for different people.

Deena's owner Marina Pitsonis

Deena, a black springer spaniel retriever, has been visiting and warming the hearts of the nursing home residents for just over 10 years. 

Owner Marina Pitsonis first heard of Delta therapy dogs after reading an article in the Bega District News 10 years ago.

"I was inspired by Sandy's story and I knew Deena had the temperament and personality to match."

Now a decade on with a string of obedience credentials and letters behind her name (including the highly aspired to "utility dog excellence"), Marina says sadly the time has come for Deena to retire. 

"She's 13, she falls asleep on the way home, she's getting old herself."

Deena's here: Deena the therapy dog is welcomed with open arms. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

Deena's here: Deena the therapy dog is welcomed with open arms. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

Being led by Marina, Deena heads off sprightly down the corridor of the nursing home. She stops at a door where a handpainted picture of a labrador is posted at the entry.

Marina knocks, "Hello Zoe, are you there - Deena's here," she says calmly before entering. 

Zoe's room is colourfully decorated with many artworks and photographs. On her side table a statue of a labrador sits beside a framed portrait of Zoe's real life pet lab. Like many elderly pet owners she had to leave her beloved pet behind when she came into care. 

As soon as Deena walks in she sets herself down at Zoe's feet. Zoe reaches her hand over and begins to pat her. The licking starts and Zoe giggles.

"She is so lovely, she always licks my hands."

Marina says she responds differently with everyone she visits. Today Zoe isn't feeling to well. 

"If somebody is sick she will lay beside them. She does different things for different people." 

 "She has been coming here as long as I have been here." Deena and Dot Steward. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

"She has been coming here as long as I have been here." Deena and Dot Steward. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

Next stop is self-confessed animal whisperer Molly. Deena heads directly to her bedside and sits up straight. Her kind brown eyes looking up at Molly. 

 "Oh you're here, I missed you last week, I bet you missed me," Molly says as she reaches into the drawer of her bedside table.

She takes out a small handkerchief parcel placing it by her side before unwrapping it to reveal the biscuits within. She offers one to Deena who gently and graciously takes it from her hand. 

"Molly waits all week to give her her biscuits - she is the only person I will let feed her, otherwise she might get fat," Marina laughs. 

For the almost-100-year-old Molly, Deena conjures up memories of animals from her own life. Pretty soon the stories begin to flow.

They trust me she says at the end of each story.

"That's just how it is with me - and always has been. I've had animals all my life, they trust me." 

Deena accepts biscuits from resident Molly. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

Deena accepts biscuits from resident Molly. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

During the regular Thursday visits Deena can be seen going from room to room shining her canine light on those she comforts.

Her final visit is to Dot who is sitting up in her chair eagerly awaiting Deena's entry. As soon as Dot hears the tip tapping of Deena's paws she beams, "Hello Deena, you've arrived." 

She may not be as world famous as Andre Rieu but Deena has certainly left her paw print on the hearts of the Hillgrove residents. It is hoped another dog with all of the star qualities will follow in Deena's footsteps. 

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