Family at the hospice with their dogs

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Meet Betty – the service dog putting a smile on everyone’s face

By Elaine Hall, Social Worker at St Barnabas House

Pets hold a special place in many people’s hearts and can provide many benefits. They can reduce stress, provide comfort, and be a distraction when we need it most. That’s why therapy dog, Betty, plays an important role at St Barnabas House.

My 5-year-old rough coated Jack Russell, Betty, underwent her official Pets as Therapy (PAT) training in November 2021, and since then, has made a positive impact on so many of our patients, families, and staff.

Becoming a therapy dog

After submitting an initial application to join Pets as Therapy with Betty, we met an assessor in a local park. They wanted to assess if Betty could be petted and groomed by a stranger, and calm around loud, sudden noises and distractions. The reason for this is that they need to make sure Betty is calm and feels comfortable in different circumstances and won’t pose a potential risk to others. After the initial assessment, Betty was certified as a therapy dog, received her special high vis bandana, and was ready to get to work!

Therapy dog, Betty

What does a visit from Betty entail?

Each visit to a hospice patient is tailored to their needs. Some of our patients and family members might want to have Betty visit them in their room to cuddle and fuss over her. Others might want her to simply be in the room or go for a walk around our beautiful gardens with her. Betty is friendly, has a calm, stable temperament, and an easy-going personality, so is happy to work with everyone in whatever way suits them. Visits can be as short or long as you’d like, and we can talk whilst she’s there or we can sit and reflect in quiet.

Welcoming people into the hospice

Children and young people are sometimes apprehensive when visiting a relative in the hospice as they aren’t sure what to expect. To help make this easier for them, we often introduce them to Betty, this gives us a great topic of conversation and helps children feel more at ease. This provides a gentle introduction to the hospice.

Sometimes Betty spends some time with our reception team and meets and greets people as they come into hospice. Our reception team are the first people you’ll see when you visit us, so Betty always loves to help!

Benefits of a therapy dog

Having our very own PAT dog at the hospice helps make patients, families, and staff feel more at home. We welcome pets into the hospice, but it’s not always possible for every patient. If someone’s missing their dog at home, Betty is there to put a smile on everyone’s face.

Bereavement support

We do all we can to help families following a bereavement, including counselling and special bereavement events. Sometimes family members are nervous about visiting the hospice after a bereavement, and some may find it useful to meet Betty in the car park and go for a walk and talk around the hospice. We’re doing everything we can to limit the risk to patients, families, and staff, so before visiting, please visit our COVID-19 guidance here.

I believe that it’s the little things that make a big difference to patients and families at St Barnabas House, and I always find that having a cuddle with Betty lifts people’s moods and brings a smile to their faces.

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