Health Matters

Pets as Therapy

Graham with PAT dog Lucy and stroke patient at RSCH

Graham with PAT dog Lucy and stroke patient at RSCH

Pets As Therapy (PAT) brings comfort and companionship to people in hospitals, hospices, residential/nursing homes, day care centres, special needs schools and many other places. PAT dogs and cats can be found on stroke rehabilitation units where they can help people to improve their mobility by interacting with them – sometimes just through gentle touch. They can often get through the invisible communication barrier put up by people suffering from clinical depression.  Those who are lonely and withdrawn often respond to the selfless affection provided by a PAT dog or cat where human contact has failed. This is often the first step to recovery.
 
Many PAT dogs also work under the direction of clinical psychologists with children who suffer from dog-related phobias, helping them to develop the confidence to walk or play in their neighbourhoods without fear or stress. Over 4,500 PAT dogs and 108 PAT cats visit more than 7,000 sites throughout the UK, and over 130,000 patients every week benefit from the service.
 
All candidate PAT dogs and cats undergo a temperament test, which is carried out by a PAT-trained assessor. Neither the size nor pedigree matters – it is the animal’s temperament that is important.  In small ways, PAT dogs and cats bring gentle companionship to the patients and staff alike.
 
Graham Bourgoing, the Area Coordinator for Brighton, has for some time been taking his PAT dog, Lucy, a 5-year-old Golden Retriever, to meet patients in the stroke unit of The Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton. While on the stroke unit with Lucy, one patient’s son told him it was the first time that he had seen his mother smile since she was admitted, a reward in itself. Graham says, “I sometimes think simply to see a patient smile – that is my reward as a Pets As Therapy Volunteer.  I find that it is the PAT dogs that tell their own stories by their presence. I have discovered that Lucy and many other PAT dogs have an inner sense of knowing just how ill some patients are, and adapt their gentle manner accordingly. On these occasions Lucy will sit quietly next to the patient and rest her head on their hand. I remember an elderly lady who had been admitted recently who told me that she had never been in hospital before and that she was frightened, and I could see she was confused too. Just before I was leaving her ward, I noticed this lady had two visitors but she was very distressed and crying aloud. Lucy stopped in her tracks looked towards the bed, so I gently asked one of the visitors to vacate her chair next to the patient so that I could get Lucy up to the patient’s eye level. To my amazement the elderly lady stopped crying and began to stroke Lucy’s head. If I were to give Lucy’s gift a name, then I think it would be me only trying to understand something that only Lucy herself fully knows”.

Supplying this service to the local NHS Hospital and other establishments within Brighton and Hove area costs the Pets As Therapy Charity £75 for each volunteer per year. Loyal volunteers kindly contribute £19, leaving a shortfall of £56. Your sponsorship would help benefit adults and children of all ages and disabilities to receive a regular visit from a PAT dog or PAT cat. In return you will receive a certificate of recognition for your kind support. So, could you or your company help Pets As Therapy by sponsoring a volunteer with their PAT dog – a dog just like Lucy – or a PAT cat? Any donation – no matter how small – will make a difference, and will be greatly appreciated by both Pets As Therapy and the patients who benefit from this service.

Sponsorship is easy. You can send a cheque, made payable to “Pets As Therapy” to: Pets As Therapy, 3a Farm Cottages, Wycombe Road, Saunderton, Princes Risborough, Bucks HP27 9NS. Alternatively, you can pay by debit/credit card by visiting www.justgiving.com/sponsoravolunteercampaign.

If you would like more information about becoming a PAT volunteer or supporter, please check out the website at www.petsastherapy.org; you can also see a short film about the work of Pets As Therapy (just click on ‘Media’), or you can telephone 01844 345445.

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