Dogs introduced on wards at Northampton General Hospital to help provide comfort to patients

L-R: Tara Irons, Pets as Therapy volunteer with dog, Anya, Emma Wimpress, head of volunteer services and Dr Sonia Swart, chief executive of Northampton General Hospital.
L-R: Tara Irons, Pets as Therapy volunteer with dog, Anya, Emma Wimpress, head of volunteer services and Dr Sonia Swart, chief executive of Northampton General Hospital.

A cocker spaniel and great dane have been headhunted to work on the wards at Northampton General Hospital to provide familiarity and comfort to poorly patients.

Indie the cocker spaniel and Anya the Great Dane were recruited as part of The Pets as Therapy (PAT) scheme at Northampton General Hospital, which aims to bring joy and companionship to patients through volunteer visitors and their pets.

Anya visits four wards at NGH every week to help make poorly patients smile.

Anya visits four wards at NGH every week to help make poorly patients smile.

Anya joined the team on February 19 and is loved by her patients as her height means that she’s perfect for visiting those who may struggle to bend down or have mobility issues.

Newest recruit Indie, who joined on February 22, is tasked with cheering up dementia patients and providing them with some much-needed familiarity.

Head of volunteer services Emma Wimpress said: “For some patients, they may be missing home and having their pet close by, so by bringing an animal to them, it provides a home comfort often missed during a hospital stay.

“Patients have described the enjoyment they get from the visits and the reminder of home it gives them.

Indie is the newest recruit and is loved more by dementia patients.

Indie is the newest recruit and is loved more by dementia patients.

She added: "For one dementia patient, Indie provided the comfort and motivated her to want to smile and engage with Indie and Jill. This amazed staff as previously she had been disengaged with the team so the difference Indie made astounded everyone in the department."

To qualify as PAT dogs, Indie and Anya must have a temperament assessment and be up to date with all their vaccinations before they can explore four wards including, A&E, Dryden, Compton and Victoria.

Both dogs take their shifts in turns and visit NGH once a week on Tuesday and Thursday between one and two hours at a time.

Anya's owner Tara Irons said: "I first learnt about Pets As Therapy when I visited Crufts a couple of years ago with my family. We all joked that Anya would make a great PAT dog due to her gentle nature. More recently, I heard a radio interview with the local Pets As Therapy area coordinator, Rosemary Wooler, and she said that they were looking for more PAT dogs to visit places such as hospitals, care homes, schools, etc.

"I decided that I would take Anya to the Northampton General Hospital as it would be lovely for patients to see a friendly dog, especially if they are lonely, not very well, or missing their own pets. It’s clear that many of the patients enjoy seeing Anya and making a fuss of her, and this makes it worthwhile for me to see that she has cheered some of the patients up.

"The staff also love seeing Anya and I hope it brightens their day too."

The volunteer services team at NGH are hoping to expand the programme at the hospital and get more dogs and owners involved in the scheme.

Indie's owner Jill Burwood said: "I chose to get involved with PAT because I’ve always tried to do some form of voluntary work throughout my life and wanted to do something new.

"We have had Indie since she was eight weeks old and she has such a lovely temperament and is very loving. She enjoys endless cuddles and is very sensitive to people’s emotions so she seemed ideal to work as a PAT dog. We were keen to volunteer at NGH as this is our local hospital and has served my family well over the past 18 years so it was a chance to give something back.

"Indie also visits a care home where many residents are living with dementia and Northampton University to be with their students. It’s lovely watching her behaviour adapt to who she is with. The three venues are all so different but we really enjoy visiting each one. Our aim is to enjoy our visits and hopefully bring a smile and joy to everyone she says hello to while de-stressing anyone that needs it."

People can get involved with the PAT programme at NGH by contacting reception@petsastherapy.org or visiting https://petsastherapy.org/
For other opportunities to volunteer at the hospital visit: http://www.northamptongeneral.nhs.uk/