Every year we run a competition to recognise the achievements of our brilliant volunteers and their dogs. This year’s winner was announced at Crufts as a Bichon Frise named Bella. We spoke to her owner, Pets As Therapy volunteer Barry Coase about winning PAT Dog of the Year 2019, and how dogs have helped him to manage his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after leaving a career in the Armed Forces.
HiLife Pet Foods kindly agreed to sponsor the competition again for 2019, and all prizes were provided by them – thanks again to HiLife for supporting us!
Name: Barry Coase
Role: Pets As Therapy volunteer
Location: Eastbourne, East Sussex
PAT dog name: Bella
Breed: Bichon Frise
Have you always had pets?
I used to work in the HM Forces and so was constantly moving about., and wasn’t able to have a pet of my own. However, once I left the Forces in 1991 we had our first dog, a rescue Bichon Frise named Poppy.
How did you and Bella meet?
When Poppy sadly passed away I missed her terribly and so registered with Bichon Frise rescue. They rang to say that they had a five and a half month old little girl who had been badly beaten, so I went and collected her and that’s how Bella came into my life.
How has having dogs made a difference to you?
Having Poppy, and now Bella, has showed me how to care. As a result of my PTSD I find it hard to allow myself to trust, and I was constantly on guard, never relaxing. Having dogs has made it easier for me to relax.
For someone with PTSD, having a dog gives you a purpose. You’re never alone, and you have someone else relying on you, who you need to look after.
How long have you been a Pets As Therapy volunteer?
About 3 1/2 years.
What made you decide to become a Pets As Therapy volunteer?
Since leaving the Forces I’ve struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Bella has been a huge help for me. She wakes me up from nightmares, sits on my feet and stares into my eyes to ground me if I’m having a panic attack. We’ve also found that she soothes other people, so because of this we decided to volunteers and give something back by helping others.
What establishments do you visit?
Bella and I visit lots of different establishments. We visit Eastbourne District General Hospital every Thursday, working at a variety of wards there such at Intensive Care, the Children’s Unit, the Stroke Unit, Palliative Care etc. One thing that we often do when we visit the Hospital is to go down to theatre with children, with Bella sitting with them, to comfort them whilst they’re put under anaesthesia ready for surgery.
We also work in a nursery with children who have phobia, and we work in a school on the Read2Dogs scheme. We regularly visit Southdowns Community Special Needs School, where one girl stopped using her walking frame in order to be able to walk with Bella – that was incredible.
I also try to visit Combat Stress once or twice a month. They are the UK’s leading charity for veterans mental health, and work with former servicemen and women who are dealing with issues like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. They’re a charity that’s close to my heart due to my own PTSD, and I wanted to help support them – there are far too many suicides of veterans. Bella and I are part of the therapy team there now. When we visit I sit and chat to the veterans, telling them about my journey with PTSD, what we do with Pets As Therapy, and how Bella helps me. Most of the guys will stroke Bella and they often start to open up to us. It helps by allowing an easier transition into therapy, because they’ve already started to talk to me about their journey.
How did it feel to win HiLife PAT Dog of the Year 2019?
It felt absolutely fantastic to win, I just couldn’t believe it! It’s an honour – all the dogs do such a fantastic job.
What does the award mean to you?
Winning PAT Dog of the Year gives me a platform to talk about the things that are special to me, and to carry on trying to raise awareness of the charities that have meant so much to me: Pets As Therapy and Combat Stress. I can now tell people that I meet that Bella is the winner of the HiLife PAT Dog of the Year 2019 to help them understand how important the work that Bella does is – before I was just a man with a dog, and many people would tell me that ‘my dog could do that too’.
What did the process of the award look like?
We were nominated for the award by a few different people, including the Personal Assistant of the CEO at Eastbourne District General Hospital. I then submitted a folder of everything Bella has done, including pictures, statements, and letters from the establishments that we’ve volunteered at.
We were told that we had made it through to the final at Crufts, and then it was down to the votes in Yours Magazine – I worked hard to tell people how, where, and why to vote for Bella to win.
We would love to hear your stories about Pets As Therapy, whether you’re a volunteer, an establishment that works with us, or someone who has been visited by a PAT pet. To submit your story please contact email@example.com.
We are also always looking for new recruits to carry on the incredible work that volunteers like Patricia do. If you are interested in volunteering for Pets As Therapy, please fill out our application form, and we’ll be in touch.