Nine-year-old chihuahua Chica has been our Leckhampton Court Hospice’s Pets As Therapy Dog for the past three years, visiting patients in the hospice’s day and inpatient units with owner Helen.
She sits quietly on our patients' laps or on their beds being gently stroked or fed treats, encouraging a positive effect on patients' health and happiness.
Pets as Therapy Dogs can provide a wide range of physical, social and emotional benefits to patients and families. They offer the comfort of physical contact, which reduces anxiety and improves mood, and studies also show that petting animals can help reduce blood pressure through the release of 'feel good' hormones.
"Patients are here to receive expert care for their condition and Chica provides a welcome distraction, especially if people have had pets in the past," says Chica's owner, volunteer Helen Wiggan. "It opens up a conversation and we start talking.
"I can see the physical effect Chica has on people," she continues. "I can see patients relax. For a few moments they are not thinking about their treatment or their condition."
Visits from Chica help encourage conversation and connection between patients and their families too, Helen adds.
"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 says. "I ask if they would like Chica on their bed, and for ten minutes or so they will connect with her and talk about her together. If they want, I might take a photo too, which I send on so they can keep."
"Chica is the perfect lapdog"
The experience of petting an animal can reduce feelings of isolation and anxiety while promoting happiness, taking patient’s minds off their symptoms and encouraging them to share stories and memories, which in turn stimulates the mind to help increase emotional wellbeing even further.
Elizabeth Keane (pictured below) is a patient in our hospice’s day unit.
"Chica is gorgeous," she enthuses. "The hospice is a fabulous place and I have heard about the benefits of dogs visiting healthcare places like hospitals so it’s been wonderful to experience it.
"Chica’s visits are lovely and relaxing," she goes on. "She is the perfect lapdog, and is so lovely and soft. It reminds me of my brother and sister-in-law who have always had dogs."
Triggering memories and making patients smile
Gerri Garrot, Nursing Assistant in the day hospice, agrees: "Some people may have had a pet previously, and Chica’s visits help them remember and reminisce. Her visit opens up conversations and people will focus on this rather than their condition.
"You can see people physically relax as they hold her," she explains."Our patients benefit so much from Chica’s visits."
"Pets as Therapy dogs are soothing and they make patients smile," adds Senior Staff Nurse Katherine Grace. "We’re really lucky to have Helen and Chica volunteer with us."
The visits bring joy to Chica’s owner and volunteer Helen too.
"It gives me great pleasure to see the effect Chica has," Helen says. "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.
"I knew Chica was perfect for Pets as Therapy as she is such a placid character," Helen continues. "She is sweet, her coat is really soft and she is very well behaved. She is well loved at the hospice by patients, families, volunteers and staff alike."