Olive raises a feeble paw to rest in the vet nurse’s welcoming hand, while simultaneously lifting her head just enough to reveal a few grey chin hairs.
My 11-year-old whippet is bunging it on, seemingly aware she needs to exhibit signs of age, injury or fragility to enjoy the services on offer at Naughty Dog School’s new special-care facility, next door to its existing doggy day care centre at Unanderra.
The program is twofold: Care for dogs recuperating from surgery or non-contagious illness, as well as day care for aging or anxious dogs who want low-key fun and engagement. It is the first of its kind in the Illawarra with a trained vet nurse on staff.
Olive is no stranger to the original day care centre, which she attended as a frisky pup, but over the years she has developed a measure of grumpy disdain for the brazen youthful exuberance surrounding her.
Lounging on our couch, however, has eventually given way to decrepitude and is fast transforming her alluring figure into a canine version of Homer Simpson.
Time to get her up and out to road test what’s on offer in this new form of senior canine care that is housed in what used to be a large car repair workshop, which has been gutted and sectioned off for different purposes.
Olive totters past crates comfortably set up for the recovery ward, and heads towards the action where a group of small dogs are playing quietly in a fenced off pen.
It’s basically about hanging out with friends in a stimulating environment suitable for their age and condition under the watchful eyes of manager Liv Mullaly, and vet nurse Chantelle Doyle.
“We started taking clients in November last year, but we’ve known for some time there was a pressing need for special-care facilities,” says Liv.
Chantelle, who has worked in veterinary clinics for more than a decade, agrees.
“There are lots of times when we can help; for example, when your dog has undergone surgery and needs six weeks’ recuperation – how are you going to do that if you have to work and have nobody at home to care for your dog,” she says.
“Or, if you have an old or anxious dog who barks all day and drives the neighbours mad when you’re at work,” Liv adds.
Meanwhile, Olive is sussing out the action in the ring where a cluster of small dogs are enjoying soft play.
She’s allowed in briefly and is warmly welcomed by a sniff brigade comprised of Bertie, a timid poodle, Louis, a shih tzu, 16, who has dementia and mobility issues and Lucey, 16, a self-possessed Yorkshire terrier who has heart and kidney issues but still retains a bubbly personality.
So, what can Chantelle offer compromised dogs beyond the usual call of duty?
“Our handlers are proficient in most jobs but Chantelle has that extra layer of knowledge on issues like aged care and wound management,” says Liv.
With that she whips out pictures of their first surgery-recovery patient who had his toe amputated and required a high level of wound management.
“I also administer medication, supervise post-surgery rehabilitation exercises required by their vets and can advise clients on early signs that require immediate vet attention,” adds Chantelle.
For the aged or anxious dogs needing stimulation, Chantelle and Liv organize activities including games and puzzles, and grassy walks behind their building, long enough for a good sniff without too much exertion.
They now have their sights on another area of need – connecting with the grey nomads who need somewhere they can leave their dogs, particularly older ones, if they want to spend a couple of hours in places like the National Park and other attractions where animals are not allowed.
Meanwhile, Olive has moved away from the dogs and is curiously fixated on the coloured building blocks.
She is clearly impressed with her surroundings, but has the four-legged Emmy Award contender proved her need for inclusion into the program?
“We’d need to do a formal assessment on Olive because we don’t just put any dog in with the others and say, ‘Go be good friends’,” says Chantelle, “because that would defeat the purpose.”
As we wave goodbye to Liv, Chantelle and the gang, Olive’s normally sure-footed stride suffers a perfectly timed fake stumble.
I’d say she’s in with a chance.
Naughty Dog School, Orange Grove Ave, Unanderra. Prices start at $30 for two hours’ care, up to $80 for a full day, up to 11 hours.