By PHILIPPA TOMSON
Billy Boy in his uniform , all set for his first day 'at work'
Fastening his smart little jacket — slightly baggy at the sides but comfortable — I stand back and beam at Billy with pride. This is his first day at ‘work’ and I’m willing him to do well. As he walks into the room, he is greeted with cries of delight. There are so many smiling faces ready to greet him, he doesn’t know who to approach first. This new boy obviously is a big hit.
Billy, my two-year-old Tibetan Terrier, is on his first official day of duty at St Cuthbert’s Hospice in Durham as a Pets As Therapy dog. He is there to provide people with terminal or life-limiting illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and motor neurone disease with a much deserved and longed-for cuddle.
Miracle: Billy after his accident. He escaped from the garden and ran across a dual carriageway, where he was hit by a car with such force that its number plate split
He is one of more than 5,000 dogs, and a select few cats, working throughout the UK, visiting hospices, hospitals, care homes and special-needs units, providing love and comfort to more than 150,000 desperately ill people, many of whom are missing dearly loved pets back home.
Yet according to Pets As Therapy founder and chief executive Maureen Hennis, these visits provide more than a bit of light relief and can actually help improve the health of patients.
‘The act of stroking a dog reduces both blood pressure and stress levels and brings a little bit of comfort and normality to a life which might be spent mainly in a hospital or hospice,’ she explains.
Philippa with Billy Boy on his first day, left, and Christine McGowan, right, gets a cuddle from the Tibetan Terrier
Maureen launched the charity along with a group of friends in 1983 after becoming convinced of the therapeutic benefits that stroking a pet could bring to patients.
And it’s a role that my dog Billy, I am proud to observe, is embracing with relish. He scampers over to the chair of retired civil servant Beryl Colquhoun, 76.
‘Aren’t you gorgeous!’ she cries. ‘The best looking lad in here, I can tell you.’
Beryl is here to give her husband, Stan, a break from being her full-time carer. Having lost her own dog, Bracken, three years ago, she’s delighted to have a pooch back in her life, albeit briefly.
Placid: A dog has to go through a variety of tests to see if it has the right temperament to deal with people in a hospice environment
And she’s not the only one: ‘Didn’t you see the change in people’s faces when he came in? They lit up,’ she remarks, looking about the room. ‘It relaxes you, it takes you out of yourself and it’s something a bit different, something wonderful.’
Soon I feel like we are on a royal visit: so many people are eager to meet Billy, it’s hard to ration out our time. Next in line is Joan Gallent, 72. Like everyone else here, it’s obviously a relief for her to have something else on which to focus and talk about other than illness. ‘I’m a retired nurse so I already know dogs love contact with people,’ she says.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Meet your therapist: Last year Billy the terrier was saved by the kindness of strangers. Now he is repaying the debt by bringing joy to the desperatel
By PHILIPPA TOMSON