A special dog’s tale

An interview with Olive and Hospice Volunteer Kirsty Powers, written by Mary Ryder, Family Support Practitioner

Olive is a very special dog. She is a beautiful, glossy, black Labrador with soft, bright brown eyes that melt your heart. She belongs to Kirsty Powers, a Hospice volunteer, and her therapy career at Very Special Kids began two years ago when she padded through the hospice doors for the very first time.

Olive is a trained and certificated therapy dog. Kirsty wanted to give something back to a charity following family bereavements and she especially wanted to help children, so she undertook training to become a Very Special Kids Hospice volunteer.


As a trained Occupational Therapist, Kirsty knew about therapy dogs. She set out to find a dog she could train. Olive was a carefully selected puppy and her training has been rigorous at Leading the Way.

To complete the training, dogs must show no hint of aggression and are exposed to noisy and challenging scenarios with children and adults to ensure their suitability for therapy work.

Kirsty explained that at home Olive is a mischievous, bouncy and playful family pet who loves to steal socks and chew shoes. However as soon as she has her special therapy coat on she somehow seems to know she is ready to work and puts her best paw forward!

At first Kirsty kept Olive on her lead, but now Olive leads the way. She seems to intuitively know which children are struggling. She will put her head on their lap, and position herself so they can touch her. Kirsty explained this seems to be something Olive does instinctively and is not something she has been taught.

The children read to Olive, throw balls and take her for walks. Both Kirsty and the staff have been moved and amazed to watch non-verbal and very physically challenged children reach out to Olive. She now has a new role assisting physiotherapist Belinda as she positions children for treatments, encouraging them to reach out and exercise and make their time more fun.


Olive and Kirsty participate fully in the life of the hospice. Every Thursday she can be found working with the children or just chilling on her mat. She loves being part of the art therapy program with Svett (although she is not quite sure about having her paws painted yet) and often joins in on the holiday programs.

Olive has over 20 different costumes and during this interview she was dressed as a shark, as part of the Hospice School Holiday Program’s underwater theme!

“An unexpected and great joy is how the staff have bonded with Olive. We feel much appreciated and valued. Recently a volunteer made Olive special Very Special Kids therapy coats and every Thursday we walk out with a big smile and a wagging tail. Olive and I look forward to giving and receiving love at the Hospice for many years to come” said Kirsty.

Breana takes Olive for a walk

Very Special Kids feels exceptionally lucky to have both Kirsty and Olive’s support.

“The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.” – M.K. Clinton