A UNIQUE new program is filling a gap in the outer east mental health services by catering exclusively for patients' four-legged friends.
Bayswater North resident Naomi Snell, a mental health educator, noticed people had trouble finding someone to care for their pet while they receive the help they need.
While some could turn to neighbours, family, friends or even boarding kennels to care for that non-human family member, those who did not have this point of call available were forced to surrender their beloved pet.
To ensure this did not happen, Ms Snell launched Paws for Purrfect Patient Therapy a year ago, giving mentally ill people peace of mind that their furry friend is being cared for while they're in hospital.
"I saw a gap in the mental health service, and that was the provision of care for pets," she said.
"I wanted to set up a foster care program where we could care for their pets while they're away from home."
The initiative, the first of its kind, also cares for pets of people who are experiencing homelessness or are escaping domestic violence.
Ms Snell said being able to reunite people with their pets was most rewarding.
"There's always immense gratitude. Ultimately, for a lot of clients it's their only avenue of support. It's a family member for them.
"We fostered for one guy who was in hospital for a long period of time, and now his ultimate goal is to become a foster carer for others in the same situation. That sort of stuff is great."
A not-for-profit organisation, Paws for Purrfect Patient Therapy is always on the lookout for support.
"We're currently looking for corporate sponsors and donations of good-quality pet food," Ms Snell said.
Anyone looking to get involved in donating or foster care can visit paws4pettherapy.org or call Naomi Snell on 0452 661 726.