Friends with Fur

By Pippa Birchall

To all the animal lovers out there, we all can agree that pets can play a big part in bringing happiness and comfort to our lives. However, not all of us have a furry dog or cat to cuddle up to within close reach. There are many people suffering from isolation in hospitals and retirement homes and the companionship and unconditional love of a pet can help bring their life gradually back to normal.

Pets as Therapy (P.A.T) was founded in 1983, a charity set up to provide therapeutic pet visits to people in need at hospitals, care homes, special need schools and many other venues. Many of the people who receive help from Pets as Therapy explain how meeting with the animals is the highlight of their week; some even claim that the pets who visit are their reason to stay alive.

Since the founding of the national charity, over 23,000 dogs and cats have been registered.

Graham Bourgoing is the area coordinator for Pets as Therapy in Brighton and regularly takes his golden retriever, Lucy to visit stroke patients in the local area.
Lucy helps people to relax. Their blood pressure decreases when they stroke her and you can see they are happy to see her,” explains Graham.

Many patients miss their own pets while they are in hospital so seeing and talking to the dog can make a real difference.”

Not only do the pets visit people in hospitals they also visit schools to help the children with their literacy skills. Research shows that children can become nervous and stressed when asked to read in a group, so the Pets as Therapy volunteers are happy to go along and introduce the children to the pets, where they can interact with the animals whilst they are reading. Almost straight away the children look forward to reading in class and improve their reading skills as they have had encouragement from their new furry friends.
I spoke to one of the administrators for P.A.T and she explained how all Pets as Therapy dogs and cats are required to take a test to check their temperament and be fully vaccinated before going on the visits. I also asked how easy is it to take pets into a hospital environment? She told me that the hospitals approach the charity rather than it being the other way round as they feel it is very beneficial to the patients.

If you are interested in helping out with P.A.T they are looking for volunteers in the Brighton Area to help out in the hospitals and hospices, they are especially looking for friendly cats and owners to come forward.

Go to www.petsastherapy.org or www.sussexcaringpets.org for more information.

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