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Pet Therapy

10th May

Brief History of Pet Therapy

Nearly half of all UK households own a pet, with numbers increasing during the pandemic. A recent poll through a social networking website found that when we feel down, half of us would rather hug a pet than a relative! This fact alone shows that pets offer us comfort and companionship. Various kinds of animals provide therapeutic benefits. Dogs have proven to be particularly effective at providing comfort to those in physical and emotional distress.

In England, as far back as the 1700's, the Quakers recognised the positive effects animals could have on ill patients. They began introducing animals to 'enhance the humanity of the emotionally ill' for people suffering with mental health issues whilst residing at The Retreat in York.

Examples of how pets have contributed through difficult times:

.   During the Second World War, Smoky, a female terrier, was found abandoned on the battlefield. Her new owner, Corporal William Wynne, was recovering     in hospital from a jungle disease. Smoky was taken to his bedside by his friends to see if he could be cheered up. These visits along with visits to other     injured soldiers became so popular that Smoky became a therapy dog for the next 12 years

 In 1970, an American nurse based in the UK named Elaine Smith noticed that the local chaplain was accompanied by a golden retriever when visiting     patients. She recognised the difference this made to patients during recovery. When Nurse Smith moved back to the US, she started an organisation     called 'Therapy Dogs International'.

As a result of this development, a charity called 'Pets as Therapy' is today's leading UK provider of animals in hospitals, care homes, nursing homes and hospices. This organisation was founded in 1983, and since then, it has worked with over 20,000 dogs to provide therapeutic visits to thousands of patients and care home residents. 'Pets as Therapy' currently have around 4,500 dogs and 108 cats who visit more than 130,000 people every week.

Pet Therapy at Swarthmore

Our 'Pets as Therapy' dog 'Thula' has been visiting Swarthmore for around 3 years with her owner Didi.

How it all began – Didi's daughter came up with the idea as she also had dogs, so Didi decided she would also put her dog forward as a therapy dog.

A range of tests were carried out to determine whether the dog was suitable. Didi immediately thought that 'Thula' had failed. The assessment was at an assessor's home and she had just baked fresh bread. Of course, Thula loves food, so her senses took over! Use your imagination to think what happened next!! However, to Didi's surprise 'Thula' passed the assessment with flying colours, so the hunt was on to find a care home to visit. Didi was a nurse working in a hospital and came across information about care homes looking for pet therapy for their residents. Finding a care home was not an easy task, so Didi knocked on the doors of Swarthmore and was directed up to our Activities Co-ordinator to discuss. It was one of those coincidental moments that Ann-Marie and her colleague were discussing pet therapy and in walks Didi with the offer of a PAT dog. Neither of them could believe the way the opportunity came together.

Thula is a collie-cross poodle, a gorgeous bundle of fluff. He is so placid and intelligent. At home, he is always on the go; he can be noisy too! He lets you know when he wants something, and he knows exactly when it is time to walk. His personality changes when visiting the home, his instincts kick in, and he is very placid. Thula is a trained agility dog who has won a number of awards in competitions. He only visits 'Swarthmore’ residents as a PAT dog. We have all become very attached. Visiting once a week is such a treat for everyone, with visits to individual rooms and communal areas. He will happily sit on laps, lay next to residents who cannot leave their bed, and happily sit by your side whilst you stroke him. Thula brings happiness and relaxation to the home. The minute he walks into a room, you can see the residents face light up. It is quite an emotional experience for anyone to see. It is also a reminiscence experience for people as it brings back memories of their pets or experiences in life. Some residents have become more and more confident with him over the years, which is also a positive change. One of our residents enjoys walking around the home with Thula to visit residents, creating a social experience and allowing them to pet the dog and talk amongst themselves.  Ann Marie’s pockets are always full of treats for him too.

We really value Didi and Thula as part of the Swarthmore family, and look forward to many more visits. Statistics show the benefits of using Pet Therapy. Have a read of some interesting facts to consider if you would like to home a dog or cat for an elderly relative or considering pet therapy

.     The experience of petting a dog or cat can reduce the amount of medication some people require; statistics show that people become less anxious as their breathing slows down. One of the hormones released from our body produces Phenylethylamine (PEA). This is the compound found in chocolate. It is thought to have positive effects on our mood, which acts as an anti-depressant. Still a nice treat but not as tasty as chocolate!

.    For anyone having difficulty responding or able to connect with people, a connection is always made with a cat or dog, which brings a positive result.

.    Decreases the feeling of isolation and loneliness. A dog or cat fills a void.

.    Comforting and reduces boredom – allows you to go for walks, gives a sense of responsibility.

.    It gives the motivation to recover from an illness much faster.

.    Encouraging body movement and increases our motor skills.

.    Statistics show that heart patients anxiety levels dropped by 24% when visited by a pet and their owner, with epinephrine levels (a hormone the body makes when under stress), dropping by up to 17%.

If you would like to discover more details about pet therapy, please visit their website:

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