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Jess and Charlie become Pets As Therapy Volunteers

Compass CHC employee gives back to the community by working as a pet therapy volunteer in spare time

For elderly dog lovers who no longer live in their own home and can’t have a pet in their care or residential home, or for patients in hospital, interacting with a therapy dog can bring feelings of great happiness, comfort and joy.

Dogs don’t just make us calmer, some studies have shown that they also make us happier. Research has shown that just petting a dog for a few minutes can raise levels of hormones that make us feel better and Jess Davies from Ilfracombe is hoping that her therapy dog Charlie will be able to provide an oasis of calm and happiness on her visits to care homes and hospitals throughout North Devon.

Jess and 9 year old Golden Retriever Charlie, who she adopted from Irish Retriever Rescue in 2012, have undergone a temperament assessment alongside their training. The assessment checked that not only is Charlie sociable and friendly but that he will be calm and gentle when being stroked or handled and isn’t overly fearful of new and unexpected stimuli. Having passed the assessment process with flying colours Jess and Charlie are now able to visit hospitals and care homes to help soothe patients, aid both mental and physical recovery or just add a little enjoyment to a resident’s day.

Animal lover Jess who in addition to Charlie owns a rescue cat and 2 horses was inspired to train as a volunteer for charity Pets As Therapy after spending a few years in and out of hospital and knowing how draining an experience it is for patients.

Jess says; “I got Charlie as a rescue dog in 2012, we used to do dog agility but as he is getting a little bit older, I wanted to do something a little less strenuous for him, and he loves people and attention so I thought this would be the perfect job for him. I started researching the charity Pets as Therapy, filled out all the relevant paperwork, got Charlie assessed by the vet (he passed with flying colours) and here we are.”

“When I was younger, I spent a few years in and out of hospital, and know how boring and draining this environment can be. If I’d had a dog to visit me whilst I was there, I probably would have cried with happiness! Care home wise, my Granny passed away in 2002 and whilst she luckily never had to live in a care home, if she had, I would have visited as much as possible because it can be a very isolating environment if that resident, for whatever reason, doesn’t have others visiting them. And nothing boosts a person’s mood than a dog (in my biased opinion!). 

The work Charlie and I will undertake will consist of going to hospitals, care homes, residential homes and undertaking outreach programmes. We’ll let the people spend time with Charlie, having a chat, and hopefully just helping people lift their mood a little or make that day a little bit better.” Jess concludes that “as a dog lover, in my opinion, there is no better distraction than a dog, they instinctively make you smile and this in turn makes you relaxed and you can forget about your illness, loneliness, or current problem.”

According to UK charity Pets As Therapy,  sick patients often feel isolated and even the most withdrawn seem to open up and let the barriers down when their regular Pets As Therapy visiting dog is around.

University studies and huge anecdotical evidence suggests that pet therapy can help both children and adults with a variety of physical and mental issues. Pet therapy can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and increase positivity and socialisation.

Such is the positive impact of pet therapy that The Independent is reporting that the Royal College of Nursing is pushing for therapy animals to be let into all hospitals to help ill children and other patients who may benefit from the experience and the trend for dogs as assistance pets looks likely to grow.

It is thought that pet therapy can help patients:

  • improve motor skills and joint movement (patting the dog or picking up and throwing a ball)
  • improve assisted or independent movement and motivate willingness to exercise or increase movement (bending to stroke the dog or taking it for a walk)
  • increase self-esteem and decrease depression and anxiety
  • increase verbal communication (speaking to the dog and handler)
  • increase willingness to join in activities and improve interactions with others
  • decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation by giving you a companion

Jess is looking forward to her first volunteering assignment with Charlie and Pets As Therapy and is hoping that they can spread a little love and happiness throughout North Devon.

If you would like to volunteer with Pets As Therapy, all the temperament and assessment information can be found here.

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