Emma Tyreman was thrilled when she was accepted as a volunteer for charity Pets As Therapy (PAT) last month. She was also especially proud of her twenty-month old cocker spaniel, Hansie, who proved to the official assessor that he had the right stuff to become a PAT dog.
Now, with their uniforms bought and their enthusiasm at a high, the newest PAT team are deciding where to visit.
“I knew I wanted to volunteer somewhere I could help the elderly and ill – people who have found themselves in hospital and have been separated from their pets,” Emma, a mum of three from Oxford, says.
“I have such fond memories of my nan and her great love, a black and white cat named Brandy. She was very lonely in her last few years, and her cat meant everything to her.”
Sadly, Emma’s husband Colin also recently lost his animal-loving aunt to cancer.
“She was heartbroken that she could not take her beloved Labrador, Benji, into the home where she was to spend the last part of her life,” Emma reveals.
“I was determined that Hansie and I would try to fill a gap.”
Matching a volunteer with the right establishment – whether that’s a hospital, hospice, day care centre, residential home, school or prison – is crucial.
Pets As Therapy values each and every team, and therefore it’s important that the volunteer and their PAT pet are happy on each visit. Emma discussed options with her PAT Area Co-ordinator, Anne Clilverd, who is also the chair of the charity’s board.
“Anne helped me look through the waiting list of places eager for a visit from a Pets As Therapy dog. “I wanted to find an establishment not too far from where I live, as I don’t drive and I didn’t want to have to rely on public transport.
Keen For A Visit
Cherwell Ward, a women’s psychiatric ward in the Fulbrook Centre at Churchill Hospital, was keen to have a PAT visit, so Anne made some enquiries for me and arranged an initial meeting.”
Emma met senior occupational therapist Sarah Godfrey for a chat, taking Hansie with her.
“Sarah was very welcoming and pleased to see us,” Emma recalls. “She spoke to me about the ward and what to expect, and we agreed to trial half-an-hour sessions on a Tuesday morning, increasing that to an hour if the visits went well and Hansie was OK.”
The welfare of every PAT dog is a priority.
“Anne stressed how tired your dog can become with all the attention and being fussed over.
“I made sure Hansie wasn’t too warm, and that he was able to have access to water. He tends to be a thirsty chap.
Their First Visit
“On our first visit to Cherwell Ward, Hansie seemed very excited; a new environment comes with lots of new smells, and I feared it would be all too much for him. However, he behaved really well, and loved meeting the patients. Even on that first visit, Hansie made some lovely friends.
And it soon became apparent who the animal lovers were.
“I took a brush mitten with me and gave it to the patients who wanted to brush his coat. I also chopped up some celery so people could give him a healthy treat – I don’t want him putting on any weight.
“Taking along a step stool was a good idea, too, as Hansie was able to be patted by those sitting in an upright chair or wheelchair who struggled to bend down.”
A Positive Influence
Emma and Hansie’s visit was very well received.
“Hansie had a positive influence on the ward environment, and helped people who were very unwell to relax,” Cherwell Ward occupational therapist Sarah Godfrey says. “Hansie stimulated conversation about people’s own pets at home, or experiences they’ve had with animals in the past.
“He made everyone smile.”
Getting involved with Pets As Therapy is not Emma’s first foray into volunteering. She helped run a toy library in a local family centre when her eldest son, Ollie, was a toddler.
Emma also helps out at the Oxford Association for the Blind.
“I find volunteering very rewarding, and love the fact that Hansie and I now work together to help brighten people’s days.”
“After that first PAT visit with Hansie, I felt very proud of my little dog. It’s a great achievement.”