Alfie, a loveable two-year-old Cockapoo, is a much-loved familiar face at East Lancashire hospital sites and community centres in the trust. Alfie qualified as a therapy dog last year and brings joy and comfort to patients, families, and colleagues. He is based at the Spiritual Care Centre at Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital and lives with Rachel Fielding, chaplain and therapy dog practitioner for the trust.

Alfie’s training started when he was just seven weeks old where he initially worked alongside the trust’s former therapy dog, Jasper, who has since died.

Like his predecessor, Alfie was taken through basic training before learning to cope with whatever situations he might be faced with on his daily rounds. Alfie took training in his stride and blossomed. He is always on his best behaviour, sitting patiently and taking treats gently as he goes about his duties providing comfort for people of all ages, mental health patients, stroke patients, long-term admissions and more.

Rachel says: ‘From the first day Alfie came to the trust his every action was honed to form him into a clam, listening and gentle lad.’

Almost without exception, staff notice the change in atmosphere wherever Alfie goes, bringing positive responses from patients. For some it may be that stroking and petting this remarkable dog brings joy or comfort. For others with limited mobility Alfie can be placed on the patient’s bed with special infection control procedures. Whether someone needs a hug, or a friendly paw, Alfie is there to provide support in his own unique way and his presence has had an immeasurable impact on well-being throughout the trust.

The benefits of having a furry companion around cannot be underestimated. Alfie’s visits can be, and have been, life changing and life giving for some patients and their families for whom he can provide happy moments in distressing circumstances.

Reverend Andrew Horsfall, the trust’s head of chaplaincy and spiritual care services said: ‘Alfie is such a huge asset to the wellbeing of our staff and patients and their families. It is humbling and a privilege to see the impact Alfie has on the lives and wellness of so many. He is a very much valued member of the ELHT family.’

Great British Life: Alfie, Rachel and ELHT & Me's Elmore the Bear. Alfie, Rachel and ELHT & Me's Elmore the Bear. (Image: East Lancashire Hospital Trust)

Alfie works mainly with Rachel who is supported by two volunteers. Rachel said: ‘Alfie’s working day starts with a chill or play in his office. He may have a ‘Paws for Play’ time with colleagues to help them relax, do a corridor walk with one of his amazing volunteers, or respond to a colleague or patient request to visit because of low mood. Alfie brings the outside world in to help people feel individual and less isolated. His presence enables barriers to be crossed and helps to build trust with patients.’

As a therapy dog he is able to access all staff and patients – clinical and non- clinical, including all wards and clinics on and off site except for two no-go areas – theatres and canteens.

Infection control is always a priority as is Alfie’s wellbeing. When working he always enjoys a break and lunch time walk and when off duty, he loves playing with his toys, camping and long walks with his buddies, Border Collie Yan and Scottish Terrier Dougal.

Alfie loves cuddles and, in his quiet way, relishes the attention he receives when on duty. He has even received cuddles from Their Royal Highnesses William and Kate when they met him at Clitheroe Community Hospital in 2022 and at 10 weeks old Alfie was officially named by the Duchess.

Denise Gee, head of charity at ELHT & Me said: ‘Alfie is a testament to the power of animal assisted therapy and the profound impact it can have on individuals’ lives. The Trust is immensely proud of Alfie’s accomplishments, and we are looking forward to the continued positive influence he will bring to our colleagues, patients, and East Lancashire community.’