As part of Hospice Care Week, we chat to volunteers Vicky and Benjy...
At St Andrew’s Hospice, care focuses on so much more than a patient’s medical needs.
The hospice movement was founded on a holistic approach, meaning importance is also placed on the general wellbeing of the patient, as well as their families, friends and carers.
Vicky Burn has been visiting St Andrew’s for several years as a volunteer with Therapy Dogs Nationwide, a charity which takes temperament-assessed dogs and their owners into environments including hospices, nursing homes, hospitals and schools.
Vicky said: “I first visited with my therapy cat Fred and latterly with my therapy dog Bonnie, both sadly now deceased, and I now visit with Benjy, an 11-year-old Border Collie cross. He’s a happy, friendly dog with a constantly wagging tail and just adores people! He is extremely obedient and happy to be put into any position in order for a patient to be able to reach him.
“Visits to the hospice are very therapeutic for the patients in all manner of ways. The day patients we meet have become more like friends and eagerly await a cuddle from Ben and a chat with me.
“We also see in-patients, and a visit from a friendly dog – particularly if the patient is a dog-lover or has dogs of their own – can brighten up their day and encourage conversation.
“Ben is happy to sit at the side of a bed or on a chair next to the bed, so the patient can stroke and cuddle him. Many people who are perhaps feeling low or having a bad day brighten up considerably when Ben walks into the room.
“We never force people to have visits from him; it is always their choice and we accept that sometimes they are not feeling well enough.”
Vicky is the longest-serving volunteer among many who work with Therapy Dogs Nationwide who visit St Andrew’s Hospice.
“We have other wonderful dogs and their owners who also take turns to visit, doing a wonderful job,” she said.
“Ben loves his work with the children, and he can be used in all sorts of different ways. Two little boys regularly walk him with me, with a separate lead clipped on, around the hospice building and into the gardens. We then bring him back in and read him a story, or have a pretend picnic using plastic cups and saucers.
“Ben is very amenable and is happy to do whatever is asked of him - he has been in the paddling pool with a number of children and they’ve kept him nice and cool by splashing their legs in the water! This is exercise and stimulation for the children, and Ben has also encouraged speech in children who perhaps don’t engage so well with people.
“In the gardens, there is a small wishing well in which the children like to put a biscuit and wind up the bucket for Ben to reach. This keeps them occupied for ages!
“Some who are feeling more poorly love to lie against him and feel his warmth, heartbeat and silky coat. Some love to cuddle him like a teddy bear and talk to him.
“One parent said, ‘it is not just the patients who benefit - it is the whole family. Thank you for making our daughter smile’.
“I visit several places with Ben but the hospice is definitely a favourite. It is warm, friendly and happy, and the staff, volunteers and patients alike are always thrilled to see Ben.
“I like to think we bring some joy and comfort to them, during difficult times in their lives.”