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At Helen & Douglas House we love to welcome animals into the hospice to complement and support the palliative care we provide, whilst offering the enjoyment and stimulation that animals bring. Over the years, we have enjoyed multiple animal and pet visits including cats and dogs from the Pets As Therapy (PAT) charity, exotic rescued animals such as skunks and hedgehogs from Amate Animalia charity and even a special visit from a penguin.

By having pets who visit us in the hospice, we can help raise awareness of the benefits of having, working with and being around animals and them, whilst promoting responsible ownership and the therapeutic value of working and assistance companion animals. One cat Leo, who works as a PAT cat, has been coming to the hospice on a regular basis. When he visits he gets the chance to meet the children who are staying and enjoys cuddles, strokes and the chance to relax with them.

Leo the PAT cat

Leo is a 14-year-old spotted Bengal cat and is owned by Ellie and Max (mother and son). He is a fully assessed PAT (Pets as Therapy) cat who is brought in to the hospice to meet the children and their families. Being a Pets As Therapy cat is not for every feline as it is usually in their nature to take their time to approach people. To qualify for the role, cats must have a suitable temperament for being around a variety of people and take an assessment test with the PAT charity. Leo the cat passed his assessment with flying colours as he is a very calm, happy and relaxed family pet, who loves being with people.

On a recent visit to Helen & Douglas House, Leo the cat met Jasper, who has been coming for regular stays at the hospice for three years. Jasper said, ‘meeting Leo was really good. He made me feel calm and relaxed and he even autographed my diary by dipping his paw in paint’. Leo clearly enjoyed his visit, remaining calm and relaxed throughout and, as a reward for being so good, he was treated to a delicious chicken dinner.

Animals in a clinical environment

Animals are not usually invited into clinical environments, however, here at Helen & Douglas House, we have recognised the need and suitability of animals to come into the hospice as part of the package of holistic care that we offer. We talked to Dr Emily Harrop, our Consultant in Paediatric Palliative Care at the hospice, who says that as a hospice we like to think ‘outside the box’. We do this by giving our children access to animals for therapy, such as cats and dogs, but also to other exotic animals which may offer additional benefits and/or be part of a child’s final wishes.

Animals are frequently becoming an important part of many families’ lives and can have a significant therapeutic effect on patients. These benefits include reducing anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate. They can also be especially comforting for end-of-life care, and at Helen & Douglas House we have met specific requests to accommodate a child’s needs, including a special visit from a penguin and accommodating a family dog at the hospice for a child during their final days.

The visiting animals can also offer a calming effect, distracting a child from their anxiety or pain symptoms and giving families a chance to make memories together, whilst offering siblings the opportunity to enjoy their time at the hospice. However, these benefits are not limited to the patients, the visits are also enjoyed by staff at Helen & Douglas House. Recently Amate Animalia brought in some rescued newborn lambs and a baby alpaca (also known as a cria). Whilst the sun shone, the children enjoyed meeting the animals and the staff also got the chance to have a little cuddle.

Pets can also help in a physical way by, for example; a therapy dog can pick up socks or open doors for a child who is in a wheelchair. They may also be a necessity for some patients, such as a seizure awareness dog. As well as this, they help by breaking down social barriers and opening up relationships with people, as well as offering companionship and bringing confidence. We have seen this with some of the children who come to the hospice who have their own dog at home to assist them with daily tasks and improve their well-being.

We love to highlight the benefits of animals and, whilst we can’t currently enjoy animal visits due to Covid-19 restrictions, we will look forward to a time when visits from pets will be possible again. It is clear that a shared enjoyment of pets is beneficial across the whole of the hospice, from patients to families to staff. The benefits neatly fit into the special and unique total care package we offer here at Helen & Douglas House, as the animals are something you would rarely see in a general hospital.

You can help provide hospice care to local terminally ill children

Your donations help us to continue to provide the care we offer at the hospice and ensure we have the opportunity to also bring in additional forms of therapy, such as that from animals. Thank you for your support.

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