“Dogs can have such a significant benefit to a patient’s wellbeing, bringing comfort and calm to a difficult day.”
Meet Bobby, a seven-year-old Westie and trained pet therapy dog. For a number of years he has joined Ginny, a member of our community nursing team, on her visits to the hospice.
After 16 years at Martlets, Ginny is now retiring. She looks back at her time at Martlets and tells us how Bobby’s visits have benefitted patients.
Ginny’s time at Martlets
Ginny started working with Martlets in 2006. She was a part of our Hospice at Home team as well as working in respite care.
“They’re both quite different, but very rewarding jobs,” she says. “Not without their challenges, but you can see the positive effect you have just being there.
When I go into someone’s home, I always say I am a guest. Everything is about empowering the patient and their family and trying to make things just a little bit easier for them. We aim to provide as much support as they need.
Communication really is key, not just with the families but with the other teams at Martlets. We just want to do our best for patients and improve their quality of life. It’s a privilege to be part of patients’ final journeys and I’ve been inspired by how they cope.”
Bringing Bobby home
Bobby was a rescue dog from Dogs Trust Shoreham. He was only six months old and Ginny had fallen in love with him right away. She and Bobby spent a week together to make sure they got on and then, after a vet referral, Bobby was ready for his new home.
“When we first took him home, he was so excited,” she recalls. “He flew into the garden and straightaway fell in the pond! But he soon settled in.
I brought Bobby into work to meet my colleagues at the Hub (Martlets’ telephone support team) and he loved it. He trotted in as if he owned the place and it just felt like he belonged there.”
Bobby knew exactly where he was going whenever Ginny would pull up to the Hospice in her car. He started making regular visits to the Hub to meet the team and even had his own box of treats there.
“Bobby would roll on his back as soon as we got into work as he loves his tummy tickles. I remember the team saying that when they were having a stressful day just stroking him really helped. Him just being there for the people on shift really brightened their days and he absolutely loved it.”
Bobby brought smiles to the team working at the Hub and they all noticed how gentle he was. One of the nurses suggested he become a pet therapy dog so that patients and families supported by Martlets could also benefit from his affectionate nature.
“For his pet therapy assessment, one of the trainers watched us to see how he behaved around adults, children, other animals, and his environment,” explains Ginny. “They wanted to make sure he was relaxed, and that he was safe to be around patients. Bobby passed the assessment, and I was told he was very friendly and calm and that we had a very warm bond.”
Bobby’s pet therapy visits at the Hospice
Each visit from Bobby is different as it is dependent on what the patient wants to do. Some people may just want to sit with Bobby and stroke him while others may want to take him for a walk. A visit can be long or short, it all depends on the patient’s needs.
“One lady wanted to take him for a walk in the garden,” says Ginny. “She just held on to his lead and walked round in a circle, and he just followed her. Another lady we visited used to have a dog. Seeing Bobby really made her smile. He was so good and just sat with her on the bed. She loved his visits.
The big thing with dogs is that just stroking them, sitting with them, giving them a treat, or taking them for a walk really does help put a person at ease. Some of our inpatients can feel low being away from home and Bobby being there can help them relax. The most important thing is he picks up on how they feel. Spending just a little time with Bobby has lifted moods and brought smiles to many faces at the Hospice.”
Continuing pet therapy
Bobby has been supporting patients for a number of years now. Sadly, due to the pandemic, he has been unable to perform his usual duties and has been enjoying a well-earned break and had lots of walks.
“Now I have retired, the aim is to start offering pet therapy again,” says Ginny, “I’ve got a list of nursing homes to visit and, of course, Martlets.
I was able to pop in with him on my last day. Everyone was so happy to see him again. Animals, particularly dogs, just pick up on that and they know where they’re needed.”
Ginny has renewed Bobby’s pet therapy licence and is looking forward to her new role as a volunteer, making more visits in the future.