Canine friends: Meet the therapy dogs roaming around Yorkshire mental health hospitals

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Mindy, 6, is one of ten dogs who have been specially trained to support patients on the wards at Fieldhead Hospital in Wakefield, Kendray Hospital in Barnsley and the Dales Unit in Halifax.

Mindy herself had a rough start in life and has most of her teeth missing. But after being rescued from a public shelter in Romania by her now owner Angela Barker, Mindy is now helping hospital patients with the support of her owner.

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Angela has started the Friendship Service at the South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and accompanies Mindy to the wards.

Angela Barker and Mindy

She said: ‘It’s quite moving to see.

“Dogs just know who needs them most and gravitate towards those people.”

“Mindy is a mixed race, around six years old and she is particularly suited to the wards of the hospitals she visits. While some dogs are better one-on-one.

“Services are telling us there is a great need and it relaxes the atmosphere in the service by having the dogs there.”

Mindy’s name badge as she’s an “equal partner”

The friendship service which was launched just before the pandemic in 2020 is back in operation. The team hopes to recruit more dogs and volunteers to meet demand as well as to find dogs to visit Dewsbury services.

Angela, Volunteer Coordinator for Pastoral Care, said: “In addition to service visits, we now offer individual visits to the hospital site, such as patients wishing to walk in the grounds.”

Angela said people in the wards looked after the dogs and bought them treats.

“It brings out kindness and compassion in people that you wouldn’t expect in this environment which can be quite stressful.

Angela and Mindy

“Dogs don’t judge and take people as they are.”

She said Mindy was used to receiving constant affection from everyone in the hospital and she expected it all the time in the outside world.

Angela said: “One of the biggest things is that it’s a way for the people we work with to build relationships because they find it difficult to engage with other people.

“A lot of it is around the relationships you build with people and dogs fill that gap.”

Angela and fellow dog lover Geraldine Mcdonald

She said it helps build trust and empathy.

“You have to understand how dogs feel. If you talk to them well, they behave well

If you treat them with respect, they react the same,” Angela said.

She added that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that dogs – and indeed all animals – help people build better relationships.

As with humans, all dogs are different.

“One of the big dogs is great for one-on-ones, Miley (who was the first to befriend the pets) is versatile and Mindy works in the pastoral field. Bruno le bulldog visits the low security unit, he’s everyone’s hero, but he’s cute,” Angela said.

The dogs visit most wards, including the low and medium security wards at Fieldhead Hospital in Wakefield.

“If it weren’t for the dogs we couldn’t run this service, it’s an equal partnership,” Angela said.

Could you and your dog volunteer as friends?

While Angela and fellow dog lover Geraldine Mcdonald agree it’s the “best job”, finding suitable people and dogs to volunteer is difficult.

“A stressed dog is more likely to react.

“What we’re looking for in dogs is a dog with a dependable temperament that actively seeks out humans,” Angela said.

Angela, who started volunteering with her pup for charity six years ago, said a trusting relationship between dog and owner was key.

“The dog must be well trained and reliable.

“We work with a behaviorist who assesses the dogs and stays in the background of our service who is happy to be a dog advocate,” said Angela, owner of Miley and Mindy, but only one dog is allowed in the facility. unit at a time.

She said they are desperate for volunteers, but need to make sure they get it right, as some clinical areas and services are stressful and difficult areas.

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