Finlay the therapy dog retires after years of helping residents at Sue Ryder Stagenhoe

For nearly a decade, Finlay the therapy dog has been helping and cheering up residents at Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre Stagenhoe, but now he is finally hanging up his collar and settling into retirement after bringing joy to so many people.

Finlay the therapy dog sitting with his retirement basket full of gifts.
Finlay sitting with his retirement basket full of doggy gifts

Top dog

For nearly ten years, Finlay the therapy dog has been everyone’s ‘top dog’ at Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre Stagenhoe. Every Thursday he would visit for a catch up with his friends and to make sure they all had an absolutely ‘paw-some’ time. As Finlay settles into his well-deserved retirement, Mary Wilson, his owner, describes what made him such a good therapy dog:

“There isn’t one particular breed that makes a good PAT (Pets As Therapy) dog, it all comes down to temperament, the animal needs to like people and they have to be tolerant. The people who Finlay would visit at the centre might be stroking him one minute and then not be able to let go the next due to their particular neurological condition. It was important that he would react well if anything like that happened.”

“There isn’t one particular breed that makes a good Pets As Therapy dog, it all comes down to temperament, the animal needs to like people and be tolerant”

Before Finlay could go into the centre he had to be assessed and passed as an official PAT dog, as Mary explains:

“He had to be able to take a treat without snatching it, to react well to loud noises and to reliably follow commands. Many of the residents at Stagenhoe are in a wheelchair and as dogs rely on recognising shapes, they are not able to separate the wheelchair from the person, which can be confusing for them. We had to make sure that Finlay was alright with that before he went into the centre.”

Finlay enjoying some festive fun at Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre Stagenhoe
Finlay enjoying some festive fun at Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre Stagenhoe

Finlay's weekly visits

What Finlay got up to on a visit to Stagenhoe varied from week to week too:

“Sometimes we would go to the activities room and we would join in with whatever was going on. Finlay would sit quietly and if someone wanted to stroke him or just sit near to him they could. On other days, we might wander round the centre or the grounds and visit people’s rooms if they wanted to see Finlay.

“A lot of the people had dogs before going into the centre so they liked the familiarity of Finlay being there. There was even one person who didn’t think they liked dogs until they met Finlay. This person was visually impaired so a nurse suggested they just put their hand on Finlay’s head, once they had stroked him and felt how soft his ears were they were besotted. That was a very special moment.”

“If you’ve got a loveable, strokeable dog sitting beside you, you can almost feel your blood pressure going down and Finlay definitely helped to cheer people up”

There are many benefits that therapy pets can have:

“If you’ve got a loveable, strokeable dog sitting beside you, you can almost feel your blood pressure going down and Finlay definitely helped to cheer people up. He didn’t have many tricks up his sleeve, but he could offer a paw and people liked that. 

“Animals are very uncritical. Finlay would just sit there and let things unfold around him, which I think people found very calming. I have found that sometimes a dog can connect when a human can’t. The staff seemed to enjoy Finlay’s visits as well, it was something a bit different and always made him feel very welcome – there were always plenty of treats waiting for him whenever he visited.”

Hanging up his collar

Despite being so well-loved by everyone at the centre, every good therapy dog knows when it’s time to hang up their collar and Finlay was no exception.

“A few months a go I noticed that he wasn’t going into the centre with the same enthusiasm,” Mary said. “He was getting older. It was telling me that he had done his bit. He is 11 and a half now, which is getting on a bit for a Golden Retriever.  Now he is retired, he still does a little bit of low impact agility but mostly he loves going for walks and pottering around the garden.”

Sally Davies, Sue Ryder Neurological Regional Director, said: 

“Finlay was a valued member of the Stagenhoe team and we all miss him. We look forward to welcoming our new therapy dog, Mungo, to the centre in the future when that is allowed again. Happy retirement Finlay!”

Finlay was unfortunately unavailable for comment due to a hectic schedule of napping and walkies.

Find out more about Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre Stagenhoe, the expert care they provide and ways you can help to support them