It has been scientifically proven that the mere action of stroking a pet slows the heartbeat, reduces blood pressure and can even make someone who has already suffered a heart attack much less likely to have another. Jude Scott, Practice Educator at our Dee View Court neurological centre in Aberdeen, talks about how her dogs became registered Therapets.
I love dogs and have always wanted to incorporate my dogs into my life at work. Two years ago, I heard about Therapets so I made contact with Canine Concern Scotland to enquire. (If you’re not based in Scotland like me, you could try contacting Pets as Therapy instead.)
I thought my two border collie dogs – 6.5-year-old littermates Mac and Jess, who I’ve had since they were 8 weeks old – would make great Therapets because they’re both friendly and outgoing, but not too boisterous and pretty obedient on the whole (Jess more so than Mac, I must admit!).
A local Canine Concern representative came to my house to assess the dogs. The assessment involved ensuring the dogs didn’t mind being patted all over their bodies, and don’t get spooked by loud noises (we used keys on a metal tray to test that one) or snatch treats (some residents don't have a lot of dexterity in their hands so they need to be gentle). Then Mac and Jess had to demonstrate they had suitable temperaments by showing they could give paws and generally have a bit of play. I, on the other hand, had to fill out forms and undergo Protecting Vulnerable Groups checks.
Once we had all passed, we were assigned to a ward in our local hospital, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary; Mac to the urology ward and Jess to the Care of the Elderly ladies’ ward. We enjoyed our 18 months working there so much.
The dogs even got a present from the wards when we went up on Christmas Day with my mum to say hello to everyone; seeing how much Mac and Jess meant to patients and staff really made our Christmas special.
A typical visit to Dee View Court
Mac and Jess started visiting Dee View Court on a monthly basis in January 2017, shortly after I started at Sue Ryder as Practice Educator. They know when it’s a ‘work day’ because they have to wear their yellow coats to signify that they are approved Therapets.
Before we head over to Dee View, I usually take the dogs for a walk nearby so that they can expend some energy and aren’t too excitable.
When we arrive, we usually head to the Recreational Therapy department where most of the residents will be at that time of day (in the early afternoon just after lunch).
The dogs will then take off their yellow uniforms so they can enjoy a proper pat from the residents and staff. We sit and chat with residents and make sure everyone has a chance to pet the dogs and get cuddles. If there are any residents missing who I know like Mac and Jess, I’ll go and find them so they can get some quality time with the dogs too.
Mac is very much a man’s dog and prefers to spend time with the male residents. He also likes a good cuddle and being able to have a sniff around any glitter during card-making in the Recreational Therapy department. Jess is a shy girl but a real softie who loves to give paws to residents and be petted, loved and needed.
The benefits Mac and Jess bring
I think Mac and Jess bring real happiness to the residents through the therapeutic benefits of touch (particularly the feeling of petting the dogs and rubbing their fur), the calming nature of the animals and seeing something different that adds variety to residents’ daily lives.
One of the residents likes to hold the lead and walk (using her electric wheelchair) one of the dogs up and down the corridor, which was initially a first for both of them so they were both exhausted, but happy, the next day! We haven't tried playing with a ball yet as the majority of our residents are not able to throw it for them, but these types of games are on the cards for the future.
Being able to ask after the dogs, talk to them and laugh at their antics stimulates conversation for everyone in Dee View Court, and the dogs both really enjoy their visits and are so excited to see everyone. Even the staff stop for a cuddle and a chat as we do our rounds.
We usually visit for just over an hour because they dogs get really tired when they are ‘on the job’. Mac and Jess give so much to their visit that they are always exhausted afterwards and relish a quiet night in after their busy day at work!
Why I do Therapets
I love that the dogs are part of my home life and work life. It brings me a lot of joy that they are loved by others.
It has also been a great opportunity for me to get to know the residents and my colleagues on a personal level; I only started six months ago and I only work three days a week, which isn’t a lot of time to build relationships, so I think the dogs have helped make me more approachable.
Who knows, maybe in the future they will come with me every day?