Dr Takalani Makulana had a hard time letting go of Rover after apparently falling for his “charms”. On 18 January, Rover and volunteer handler Sigrid Jefferies visited Crestcare Private Hospital for a “walk-through” in preparation for the planned new Pets As Therapy service. Photo supplied.

Truly special dog to deliver truly special service

Date: 26 January 2024 By: Andries van Zyl

The Crestcare Private Hospital in Louis Trichardt will soon feature another special service in the form of pet therapy, and who better to deliver this service than Rover, a truly special dog.

On 18 January, Rover and volunteer handler Sigrid Jefferies visited the hospital for a “walk-through” in preparation for the planned new service. This was done to familiarise Rover with the hospital, the staff, and the surroundings.

“He passed with flying colours! One doctor, hugging him tightly, almost did not want to let Rover go,” said Riana Smith, the hospital’s relationship manager.

Smith said that pet therapy was specifically for very sick patients, such as those suffering from cancer, children, people with Alzheimer’s – basically any patient a doctor feels may benefit from such therapy. “From our side, we will get the necessary authorisations,” said Smith, adding that the service would be an “extra” they offered their patients. Although Rover has not been exposed to any of the patients yet, Smith said the feedback from the staff was extremely positive. “Everybody was very excited,” said Smith.

But what qualifies Rover for the job?

“Therapy dogs need not be specially trained. In Rover’s case, he completed puppy school [to teach him self-confidence] and basic obedience training,” said Sigrid. But Rover’s life story is much more interesting than that!

“He was a rescue,” said Jefferies. She goes on to explain that she and her husband Michael were on their way to a family gathering in White River in 2018. Just before Graskop, they found Rover after someone had run him over without stopping. “We picked him up and took him to a vet in White River. He stayed the night with minor injuries and was collected the next day by the White River SPCA, in case someone was looking for him,” said Jefferies.

But nobody came to claim Rover. In the meantime, the Jefferies couple returned home, but they just could not get Rover out of their minds. Two weeks later, in November 2018, they were back in White River to fetch Rover after deciding to adopt him. That was when they decided to name him Rover (Run over).

Since then, Rover, determined to be a cross between a Chow (75%) and a Tibetan Spaniel (25%) through DNA testing, has been bringing joy wherever he goes. At one stage, Jefferies read about therapy dogs, and this put her on the trail of Pets as Therapy (PAT). “I met Karen Steenkamp, and Rover and I did all the necessary assessments and became members of Pets as Therapy in October 2019,” said Jefferies. Together, they already do regular visits to Our Home Old-Age Home in Louis Trichardt, with the home’s residents truly looking forward to each visit. They have also visited schools and attended dog shows such as that of the local SPCA. At present, Rover is the only PAT-registered dog in Louis Trichardt.

“I am very excited to get started! I cannot wait to meet the children ... For me, it is a way of giving back something to the community,” said Jefferies.

Pets As Therapy was launched in South Africa in 2001. As mentioned, neither the pet nor the dog, in this case, nor the human handler or companion needs special training. The interaction between the human and animal companion is social and unstructured but has therapeutic benefits, hence the name “Pets As Therapy”. No fees are charged for visits to facilities.

More information about when this service will officially become available at the Crestcare Private Hospital will be communicated to the public.



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Andries van Zyl

Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.


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