Volunteers of an animal therapy programme have told how it helps bring joy to patients in Aberdeen’s hospitals.
Therapets is run by Canine Concern Scotland Trust and focuses on taking animals, specifically dogs, to visit hospitals, day centres and nursing homes, where they provide a little four-legged therapy and companionship.
In 2018, NHS Grampian saw four dogs in Woodend Hospital, 12 in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, five in Cornhill and three who work with children to overcome their phobia of dogs.
Fiona Watts, 64, area representative for Aberdeen South and West, said: “The volunteers start off by doing as much as they can manage – to fit around their lives and to make sure the dogs enjoy it.
“We wait until volunteers approach us and join because it means that they know they have a dog that loves being petted and they have the time to go to visits.”
In order to become a Therapet volunteer, the charity assesses the dog, which must be at least one year old.
The assessment consists of a series of observational tests, and Fiona said she tests the dogs’ reactions to unexpected noises, lightly pulling on their tails and snatching the treat away from them.
She added: “The ideal reaction is when the dog waits to see what you’re going to do and is calm.”
When the furry friends head into hospital, Fiona said it’s not just the patients who benefit, but also the staff.
She said: “The staff absolutely adore the dogs, there are promises of biscuits and all sorts of things.
“Some of the patients we visit have been in hospital for quite a while. It gives them a change in their day and it gives them something to talk about with their visitors.”
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Pippin, a five-year-old therapet from Banchory, has been involved with the charity since the spring and visits patients in ARI. Her owner, Nicky Glendinning, 54, said: “We were visiting my dad in his residential home and we took her in. She seemed to sense she had to be calm.
“My dad loves her and really, really misses having a dog. She instantly recognised his smell and jumped up on his lap.
“I want other people to experience the same happiness.
“Pippin also visits a cardiac ward at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary once a week as well. I pull up a chair next to the bed or chair the patient is in and let Pippin sit on my lap. She just lets herself be stroked. She loves attention.”
Edna Crighton, 76, volunteers Lhasa Apso pups Robbie, 12, and Bracken, 11, at the Health Village on Frederick Street. The Hilton resident and her dogs pay a visit to patients before their procedures in an effort to calm them.
She said: “I remember a young 21-year-old lad and I could see he was really anxious. I just approached him and asked ‘are you OK with dogs?’.
“He was waiting to get a procedure done and said he hadn’t gone very well the last time. So he was very nervous.
“So to calm him we started talking about the dogs and if he had any dogs of his own. By the end of the chat, he said: ‘Thank you very much, I don’t feel anxious at all now’.”
Anne Mitchell, 68, from Bieldside, volunteers with Sandi, her eight-year-old Labrador, at Woodend Hospital.
She said: “I had been volunteering in various things in my life, but at the moment I wasn’t doing anything. So I thought Sandi would make a good therapy dog. This way I could share her with people who are less fortunate than me.”
The volunteers also take part in programmes outside the hospitals such as PAWS sessions at different university and colleges in the north-east.
Those interested in volunteering with the Therapet programme can find more information at https://www.canineconcernscotland.org.uk/becoming-a-therapet-volunteer