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Veteran's recovery eased thanks to furry friend

Published:  30 October 2020

Veteran’s recovery eased thanks to furry friend A widowed veteran recovering in Townsville University Hospital has lost her heart to a furry, four-legged visitor whose owner is a fellow vet who regularly drops into TUH to lift the spirits of his fellow servicemen and women.

Garth Murray and his Belgian Shepherd, Max, visit 80-year-old Barbara Irons regularly in the sub-acute care unit where she has been since June recovering from hip replacement surgery.

“Max has a very calming presence; he has a look around and has a sniff and brings a sense of comfort when he’s near,” Mrs Irons said. “He’s very gentle and it feels like he’s happy to sit and listen to your story.”

Mr Murray said the first time Barbara met Max he knew it was a match made in heaven.

“Barbara hugged me goodbye when I left, so I knew she valued talking with me and, most of all, meeting Max,” he said.

“Barbara and I have shared stories about our experiences in service and Max has taken advantage of all the love and pats.”

Mr Murray was medically discharged from the Army in 2017 after breaking his neck.

“I was in the Army for 15 years as a storeman and was deployed to Iraq and Timor,” he said.

“I broke my neck and eight months later I was diagnosed with adjustment disorder.

“I got Max three years ago as a companion and eventually realised that if my mental health got worse it would be better to have Max trained as a therapy dog; it was the best decision I could have made.”

Mrs Irons, an Army nursing officer in the 1960s who cared for soldiers from the Vietnam War, said she relished the chance to meet Garth and Max.

“I know there is a generation gap, but we’ve exchanged some stories about our time serving and I feel like his grandmother in some ways; he and Max are both relaxing lads to be around,” she said.

“I think Max has helped Garth by giving him something positive to contribute and helped him feel useful again after his injury and medical discharge.”

Mrs Irons said part of the joy of meeting Garth and Max was seeing the connection they shared.

“They really love and protect each other,” she said.

“For me, it has also been so nice to watch a lad like Garth making his way back into the community.

“Ultimately, the company and conversation about our lives, dreams, and hopes has been so important to me and not something I will ever forget.”

Mr Murray said he was honoured to share Max with veterans in hospital.

“People really appreciate it, and some stop us in hospital as they are missing their own pets,” he said.

“Max is highly intelligent, and his training and temperament combined make him a perfect fit to visit veterans.

“Max is also a leaner, so he’ll use physical contact with patients, staff, and visitors to initiate a pat and people respond well to that.

“We recently met a lady in a wheelchair who was crying as she missed her own dog and Max jumped up to her lap to comfort her which was lovely to see.

“Animals are therapeutic, and it’s proven that they can have a positive impact on people in hospital.

“Even people who don’t consider themselves dog people really enjoy seeing Max and, at a bare minimum, seeing him can break up their day.”

Townsville Hospital and Health Service veteran liaison officer Cathryn Shepherd said the friendship formed between Mrs Irons, Mr Murray and Max was touching.

“It has been wonderful to see two veterans connecting and Max has only made the friendship more special.”

Max is trained by Hounds 4 Healing, an organisation founded by the Australian Defence Force for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Garth's visits to Townsville University Hospital are as a official volunteer with RSL Queensland.

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