Published: Wednesday December 28 2016 by Clare Doolan
White Cross Vets Veterinarian Gilly brought Brann into her home as a 9-week old puppy. From very early on, Gilly could tell that the big cuddly, affectionate boxer pup would make a wonderful therapy dog. Brann grew up side by side with Gilly’s two baby sons and has always loved to be around children.
Pets as Therapy
All Pets as Therapy (P.A.T) dogs have to be fit, healthy, up to date on vaccines, flea and worm treatments, and most importantly, to pass a temperament assessment. Everything Brann needed health wise was covered under the Complete Wellness Plan and the rest was down to her. In 2015 Gilly was confident she was ready.
The assessment was a bit nerve wracking for Gilly. It took place on a chaotic smallholding with lots of exciting things like donkeys, chickens and the assessors own dogs barking in the background. Brann was scored on various things while she interacted with the assessor, like taking a treat gently, not reacting badly to sudden noise and settling down quietly when they’d been talking for a good 10 minutes. Brann took it all in her stride and passed with flying colours.
Choosing a Hospital
At the same time, the family had been in and out of their local hospital, with their young son's health issues. The hospital staff were brilliant during this anxious time. Although Gilly dreaded staying there, the hospital fascinated her - everyone she met had a story to tell, perhaps tragic, perhaps joyful but always mixed with worry and trepidation at some point. She knew that this would be the perfect place to bring Brann. Who better to lift their spirits?
Gilly Tells Their Story...
I immediately discovered that it takes an awful long time to get from one end of the corridor to the other when I’m with Brann - people seem drawn to her like a magnet, and everyone wants a cuddle. Many people assume at first that she is a guide dog, as the colours in her uniform are similar, and try not to distract her from her job - but then when they read her tabard (it says ‘visiting P.A.T dog’), they realise getting cuddles is her job and they rejoice!
First Visit to The Rehabilitation Ward
We made our way to the rehabilitation ward. The patients here are often in for many weeks, so don’t always get many visitors after a while. Brann was an instant hit - first of all, staff from all over the ward came out of nowhere to give her a fuss, and then she was more than happy to go from patient to patient to get more pats and cuddles. People’s faces lit up when she walked in, and they, for a moment at least, were taken away from whatever stress or discomfort they were in. They talked to Brann and about Brann, they talked about their own dogs, about dogs they had growing up - no one ever talked about why they were there, or how ill they felt. Brann’s funny face, soft ears and beautiful personality lifted people’s spirits.
After only a couple of visits, we ended up on the hospital’s Facebook page and were instant celebrities (in our neighbourhood at least!). Requests for visits came from loads of other wards, and soon we were visiting elderly folk, dementia patients, and had a very successful time in the stroke ward as well. Staff always flock around her as soon as we arrive on a ward (to get some therapy of their own, as they put it). Brann would then work her way around the patients, saying hi to everyone. Occasionally I would hold her up so she could have her front paws on a bed, where a patient was unable to get up.
Making a Difference
The effect in the stroke ward was especially striking. I hadn’t noticed anything unusual at first - patients were stroking Brann’s head and happily chatting to her as per normal. Then the nurses started saying things like ‘Wow, he’s smiling- he never smiles!’ or ‘This is amazing- he’s never even awake and look- he’s looking at her, patting and talking to her!’ Needless to say, we are welcome back on the stroke ward anytime.
It's Not Always Easy
It’s a hard place to be sometimes - it’s difficult to see people so ill, sometimes not even able to move or even respond much. Some seem lonely and disheartened. But experiencing first-hand what a massive, positive impact a dog can have in these situations - emotionally but also physically - is simply astounding. It’s an honour and a privilege to be able to help Brann do it. And it has to be said that I would not go if Brann did not benefit just as much from her visits! She has sussed out the routine and gets incredibly excited every Thursday morning - kids away at school/pre-school, grooming mitten out, bag with her tabard, yellow collar and ID tags, mum has the yellow t-shirt on… yay! She absolutely drags me from the car to the hospital door every time!
Wilberforce - P.A.T Cat in Training
Wilberforce was born just over a year ago by C-section at White Cross Wolstanton, and taken home to be hand-reared with his three sisters as they were unwanted. He’s always been a very special guy- loved to be cuddled at less than a week old - and not much has changed except how big he’s grown!
Now he climbs up my leg and stretches out in order to be lifted up under the armpits like a toddler, and will bop me in the face with his paw if I try to ignore him. He’s learning to wear a harness and get used to travelling, then I’ll apply for his temperament assessment too.
If anyone thinks they have a suitable dog or cat who would enjoy become by a PAT pet, I would highly recommend applying. It's incredibly rewarding.
More information on becoming a P.A.T volunteer can be found at www.petsastherapy.org