All dogs are therapy dogs – four-legged, furry counselors with whom we share our hopes, concerns, frustrations and troubles. They never judge.
Dogs can’t write prescriptions or offer advice but they encourage us with their smiles and tail wagging, cuddles and fun-seeking energy.
Across the UK, friendly pooches of all shapes and sizes make a difference to the lives of tens of thousands every week. Let’s meet some of them.
Supporting Liverpool’s homeless
Shelter dogs from the Merseyside Dogs Home are helping combat homelessness, substance and alcohol abuse, re-offending and mental illness in the Liverpool area. The dogs, many of whom have suffered from abuse, are partnered with people from the Whitechapel Mission trying to escape their personal demons. Julie Prendergast, manager of the project, told the Liverpool Echo.
“The scheme helps people to associate their plight with that of the dogs and to see that the dogs are travelling on a similar journey from despair to happiness. It gives them hope and direction and simple things like being able to cuddle, kiss and love the dogs helps them a lot. It’s a win-win, for the dog and the individual.”
Cheering up wards in Wales
The UK’s Pets as Therapy charity has been organizing dog visits to the Chepstow Community Hospital in Gwent County, Wales for several years. Occasionally, a miracle is witnessed.
“We had a patient here who did not speak but after a few minutes with the dog, he was talking to it and making a fuss of it, and that was a real change,” senior nurse Rachel Lee told the South Wales Argus.
“And the dog focused on this patient, like it knew he was The One. The dog gave so much it was totally spent afterwards. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.”
Helping the elderly in NI
Becky, a gentle, earnest therapy dog in Bangor has been visiting the elderly in nursing homes for eight years despite being afflicted by a heart murmur and dyspraxia since birth.
Her inspiring efforts and assistance in charity fund-raising recently earned her the title of ‘top dog of Northern Ireland’ – a far cry from her puppy days when she and her brothers and sisters were bundled into a sack and dumped in the River Lagan, only to be saved by two passers-by.
“I’ve had dogs all my life. Something about Becky really gets people to smile at her,” Becky’s owner Margaret McKnight told the Belfast Telegraph.
Bringing calm in Sussex
Therapy dog Pablo is critical to a West Sussex mental health and emotional well-being project assisting 14 to 18 year-olds experiencing social anxiety.
“Animals live in the present moment and offer us non-judgmental, honest feedback in a way that humans often don’t,” project manager Jessica Cotton told the Bognor Regis Observer.
“They teach us to be more aware of the connections between our mind, body and emotions, which can be really helpful when learning to manage mental health issues like anxiety. “
Helping kids overcome obstacles
Children with autism delight in guiding agility-trained dogs through obstacle courses as part of the Dog Agility Therapy Autism programme at Tayside, Scotland.
“I wanted to create a programme of therapy whereby the use of dogs would help reduce the sensory chaos that individuals (with autism) can experience,” says director Blair Cochrane.
“When a child smiles and interacts with their dog, it’s the most rewarding part.”
The ambitious Pets as Therapy charity, sponsors of three of the above-mentioned programs, has about 4,000 dogs and 90 cats registered. They are a welcome sight for the 100,000-plus folks visited in an average week.
“I think PAT volunteers are the best people in the world – they are paying to be a volunteer, really, and some travel a long way for their visits,” Kate Morgan-Lloyd, the PAT contact in Gwent told the Argus.
“But I know of the life-changing stories due to some of their encounters, and I get very passionate about it. Recruitment is our issue. We’re always on the look-out and we would be thrilled to get a heap more people and their pets involved.”
To become a PAT volunteer, contact Petsastherapy.org. If you live in Scotland, you can use the Therapet website email@example.com to volunteer at their equally vital pet therapy organization.
Pics from The Belfast Telegraph, Scotsman, Liverpool Echo, South Wales Argus and Bognor News websites.