Meet Mabel, St John’s Hospice’s latest volunteer and furry four-legged friend

Meet the latest volunteer at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice – a loveable, furry, three year old Cockapoo called Mabel.  Pets as Therapy dog Mabel started volunteering at the hospice last year and has proved to be a ‘pawsome’ pal to patients, relatives and staff. In this blog post, Mabel’s owner and fellow volunteer Debra tells us about their experiences.

Everyone wants to meet Mabel. Who doesn’t like a fluffy dog? I went on holiday to Florence recently and took Mabel with me. We saw beautiful basilicas and amazing buildings, and all people wanted to do was stroke Mabel!

Mabel is the first dog I have owned. She is an absolute joy, very sociable and placid. I read about Pets as Therapy when she was younger and thought she would be fantastic at it, so worked towards it.

When she was old enough Mabel was assessed and passed with flying colours! We first started volunteering when she was just over a year at a local residential home for adults predominantly with dementia.

Volunteering at St John’s “was meant to be”

One of my best friends passed away at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice. She knew Mabel well and when I came to visit her, she said to me: “They have PAT Dogs here, you could bring Mabel”. Several months later, I started to think about it and volunteered. It was meant to be, really.

I’d previously known about St John’s through my own background in nursing. I worked for the NHS from the age of 16 until I retired. I was a nurse, then a midwife, and then a health visitor working in the local community for many years.

Our weekly visits

Everyone meets and greets Mabel when they see her, from the gardeners outside to the receptionists and then the ward staff. It’s quite often the case that people know her name and not mine!

First we walk the wards of the inpatient unit, visiting patients and their families. Mabel sits quietly while I chat to patients or relatives about anything they want to talk about – from family to the weather.

Some people love to stroke her or have her lie on the bed with them. I can see patients brighten when Mabel is in the room, she is a great ‘ice breaker’.

A welcome distraction

Patients are there to receive care for their condition and I think Mabel is a welcome distraction. She helps to change patients’ focus and take their mind off any pain or symptoms just for a few moments.

We visited one patient several times, as she loved seeing Mabel. When we first met her, she wanted to stroke Mabel and even put down a bowl of water for her. On our last visit, the patient was close to her last moments and her family were there with her. They were happy for Mabel to lie on the bed, with one of the relatives putting the lady’s arm over Mabel; this seemed to give everyone comfort.

Invoking happy memories

For people who have had pets in the past or have pets at home, Mabel is a reminder of those and helps to invoke happy thoughts and memories. Patients love to fuss and stroke her and talk about what she is like and how wonderful it is to see her.

After we have visited the inpatient unit we head to the hospice’s day services area, where day patients take part in a therapy programme and activities. Faces light up as we walk in the room and once again Mabel gets lots of attention.

Once a month, if time permits, Mabel and I also attend the hospice’s support group for carers in Bedfordshire, ‘Carers’ Thursday’.

Part of the team

I believe Mabel and I are making a positive difference with our visits. She offers people a little bit of respite, even just for a few moments. She brings a smile and change of focus at what can be a stressful time. We love visiting.

Everyone has their role to play at St John’s, working together as a team to care for people. We are very happy to be a part of that team.

Could you be our next volunteer?

Volunteers play a vital role in supporting us across the charity, from our many retail shops, to our hospices, fundraising events and befriending service. We value their contribution so much and hope you can help us, too. 

If you've been inspired by Debra and Mabel's story and would like to join us as a volunteer, we have lots of information and volunteer opportunities for you to get started!