A shout-out to the therapy dogs of Sue Ryder (and an alpaca, too)

20 Feb 2020

We want celebrate the furry, four-legged Sue Ryder volunteers who work so hard to brighten the days of our patients, residents and families. Read on to meet Chica, Maggie, Harley, Bella, Mac and Jess, and Cosmo the alpaca – not forgetting their humans!

Across our Sue Ryder centres right now, people with life-limiting or terminal illnesses are receiving much-needed cuddles from our Pets as Therapy dogs or regular animal visitors.

At Sue Ryder, we know that a sloppy canine kiss or the chance to stroke a beloved pet can do wonders for the well-being of those under our care. Pets provide a much-needed diversion, and contact with them has been proven to reduce stress and have all kinds of cardiovascular benefits.

Let’s take a tour and meet some of the animals bringing joy to our patients and residents, plus the volunteers who selflessly give their time walking the wards with their pets.


Ten-year-old chihuahua Chica is cute as a button. She has been our Cheltenham-based Leckhampton Court Hospice's Pets As Therapy Dog for the past four years, visiting patients in the hospice’s day and inpatient units with owner Helen.

"I can see the physical effect Chica has on people," says volunteer Helen. "I can see patients relax. For a few moments they are not thinking about their treatment or their condition.

"When visiting the inpatient unit, we walk into a room and she brings relief to everyone. A patient can be snoozing in bed and a relative will say, 'Oh look, a dog is here' and they will wake up to see," she continues.

"It gives me great pleasure to see the effect Chica has," Helen adds. "Just to see one person smile when holding Chica makes it worthwhile. It is a great icebreaker for me too, as I am quite reserved, but walking into a room with Chica takes my initial shyness away.”


Eight-year-old therapy greyhound Maggie and her owner Peter visit our Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough every Thursday to walk the wards meeting patients and their families. Maggie is so calm and placid that everyone loves spending time with her.

Maggie and Peter have been volunteering with us for three years and last year received a well-deserved award for their valued contribution.


Steve and Harley make a great team. Harley meets our Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice day therapy patients in Leeds each week and has even started turning his talents to fundraising.

Last month, Harley – with the help of Steve – held a bucket collection and raised £178!

"Seeing the patients interact with Harley gives me so much enjoyment,” says Steve proudly. “I can see the difference he makes to them."


Volunteer Barry discovered what a great source of support pets can be when, following his wife Sarita’s death at our Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice in 2016, he signed up their puppy Bella to become a certified Pets as Therapy dog.

“Whilst Sarita was in the hospice, I took Bella in to visit every day and, during her last few days, we stayed with her,” recalls Barry. “When I had to go home for short trips, the Sue Ryder Nurses said they would look after Bella as they had totally fallen in love with her.

“After my wife passed away, they mentioned that she would make a good Pets as Therapy dog. Now, to give something back to Sue Ryder in return for the wonderful care they gave my wife, we visit once a week to try and bring some enjoyment.”

Barry and Bella now regularly drop into our Duchess of Kent Hospice in Reading, and the nearby Sue Ryder Charles Clore Day Hospice and Newbury Hospital for cuddles.

Mac and Jess

Brother and sister border collie dream team Mac and Jess are registered Therapets up at our Dee View Court Neurological Care Centre in Aberdeen.

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,” explains their owner Jude. “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.

“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.

“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.”

…And, finally, Cosmo the alpaca

Cosmo trotted around our Sue Ryder Leckhampton Course Hospice last year and was a huge hit with patients, volunteers and staff (and apparently very patient with all our exclamations of how soft his coat was too!).

All the staff agreed that Cosmo provided everyone with a very out-of-the-ordinary therapeutic experience and we can’t wait to see him again soon.

Find out more about therapy animals or bring your animals for a visit

If you’re interested in getting one of your pets certified as a therapy animal, you can visit the Pets as Therapy or Canine Concern Therapets websites for more details.

If you own a local farm, petting zoo or just keep your own animals and would like to bring them into your local care centre for a visit, please contact one of our care centres directly to arrange this.

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