- Credit: copyright: Archant 2014
Tails wagging adoringly as they enjoy a cuddle – the very special Pets As Therapy (PAT) dogs bring joy, comfort and love to thousands of people, young and old, every year.
The charity was established in 1983 to provide therapeutic visits by animals to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes and schools and the impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of those they visit is incredible.
There are currently 4500 active visiting PAT dogs in the UK – with 80 in Norfolk – and the charity is keen to get more dog owners involved.
Carole Adam, from Norwich, became involved with the charity in the early 1990s with her rescue dog Ben, first visiting patients at a London hospital and then at Corton House in Norwich. She is now an assessor and volunteer co-ordinator.
“As a retired nurse I have seen first-hand the impact a visiting dog can make and it is just wonderful. Medically it has been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress levels and it can help those with depression. When you enable people to stroke the dogs, groom them and sometimes even feed them, it gives them a real sense of purpose and break from routine. We also take the dogs out for walks with children in wheelchairs, enabling them to help by holding a second lead, it gives them a really valuable sense of independence.”
Dogs undergo an assessment before being accepted and the charity carefully matches each one with a place or places to visit. Carole says there is a huge demand for more dogs, with around 200 establishments on the waiting list to be visited by a PAT dog in Norfolk alone.
“There isn’t a particular size, shape or breed we look for, it is all about temperament. Your dog needs to be comfortable with strangers, well socialised, calm and happy to be touched and stroked. It also has to be healthy and fully inoculated.”
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This year, PAT ran a pioneering scheme at the University of East Anglia working with students with chronic health problems which is set to be repeated and it also runs the Read2Dogs scheme.
“The PAT team goes into school and children who are lacking in confidence with their reading can read to the dog. The child feels able to practice their reading without any pressure, because the dog is obviously not judging them, and it adds a fun element to learning. It is so simple, but so successful.”
Ros Swetman and her five-year-old retired racing greyhound Polly have been volunteering for almost a year.
“We have owned Polly for just over two years and she has blossomed from a shy, ever so slightly nervous dog, into a confident and happy hound. We regularly go to Caroline House, a neuro-rehab unit in Norwich. The patients love being visited by Polly. Most moving has been the interaction with a young man who just adores her and soon managed to tell her to sit and who liked to try to shake her paw – Polly has never had anyone try to shake her paw, her legs are so long, but she was very brave and did try for him.”
If you think your dog has what it takes to join the PAT team, call Carole on 01603 664988; www.petsastherapy.org