Every year we run a competition to recognise outstanding Pets As Therapy volunteers, and crown one PAT dog as the Dog of the Year. This year the competition is sponsored by HiLife Pet Foods, and all prizes have been kindly donated by them.

We whittled down the nominations to six finalists, who were then featured in Yours Magazine for readers to vote for a winner, who will be announced at 2.30pm on Friday 8 March, during Crufts 2019. In advance of the final, we wanted to introduce this year’s finalists – all worthy winners in our eyes!

Jack and Catherine

Three-legged labrador Jack and his owner, Catherine Jones, have been Pets As Therapy volunteers for six years. They manage to find time to visit nine establishments on a regular basis, including Warriors Dementia Cafe, Lawns Nursing Home, Pershore Hospital, and Tudor Grange School.

Catherine told us: “Jack is extremely calm and sweet natured dog. I work in the care environment and understand that many residents miss their own pets. Seeing Jack provides them with a lot of comfort. I was totally shocked when we found out that we were in the final! Receiving such positive feedback from our clients and the staff is a reminder of the huge impact your dog can have on people’s lives.”

A spokesperson for Warriors Dementia Cafe told us that:

“Jack is a wonderful dog – a great ambassador for Pets As Therapy and always happy to meet all our clients both old and young, we consider him a much valued member of our team.” 

Bella and Barry

PAT Dog of the Year 2019Bella the Bichon Frise and owner Barry Coase visit numerous establishments as Pets As Therapy volunteers, including Combat Stress in Leatherhead where they work with military veterans who suffer from PTSD. Barry decided to become a PAT volunteer when he realised that Bella could help others as she had helped him:

Barry told us: “Bella is a rescue dog and she didn’t have the best start in life. I got her when I was struggling with PTSD and she helps me manage it. She has a natural instinct for recognising when some
one needs support. We volunteer for Combat Stress, a charity that supports the mental health of ex-servicemen, and have found that veterans, like me, are able to open up in therapy when they are stroking Bella. We also visit local schools so that children can read to Bella and build up their confidence. She is a lovely dog with a very calm nature.”

They also visit a Critical Care Unit at Eastbourne District General Hospital, where they help to improve the moods of staff as well as patients.

“Working in critical care can at times be a difficult and sad place for staff. The positive effect Bella’s visits has on patients, not only gives our staff a boost but when staff have their own personal difficulties to manage, Bella is more than happy to share her love and allow them to sneak in a quick cuddle.”

Molly and Peter

PAT Dog of the Year 2019Molly the Border Collie and owner Peter Elvidge have been volunteering with Pets As Therapy for the past 6 years, and visit a couple of different establishment, including Hayward House Specialist Palliative Care Unit at Nottingham City Hospital and Beeston Library. Peter became a PAT volunteer after he was diagnosed with cancer 8 years ago.

“Peter told us: When I became ill, Molly really pulled me through and I thought about how she had helped me, and how I could give something back. Molly is so calm and gentle. She is happy to be fussed and stroked and brings as much joy to others as she does to me.”

Lizzy, who works at Beeston Library, told us about the ‘remarkable impact’ that Molly and Peter have had.

Children initially nervous of dogs now lie on the floor with her, show her the pictures and give her an extra big cuddle when they have read a particularly difficult word. They trust her implicitly and know that she is listening without judging them. The children who come are those who have particular challenges in their lives, and we find that their time with Molly lets them blossom.” 

Lulu and Carol

PAT Dog of the Year 2019Lulu the Black Labrador and her owner, Carol Clare, have been volunteering with Pets As Therapy for 3 years, visiting elderly residents at the Forbury Residential Home in Herefordshire, where she brings smiles and positivity for residents with dementia and their families. A daughter of one of the residents told us: “Lulu made Mum’s face light up and had a huge impact on her life. In mum’s last days she was so frail, but Lulu came in and mum managed to pat her and say, ‘Hello Lulu’. These were her last words.”

Lulu and Carol also volunteer at Lynhales Nursing Home, where she is able to make a difference for elderly residents:

“Lulu is able to work her magic with her wonderful calm, gentle nature, friendliness and lovely face. Lulu seems to sense the residents’ moods and dispositions comments such as you have made my day and what a lovely dog are a regular occurrence.” 

Maggie and Peter

PAT Dog of the Year 2019Greyhound Maggie and owner Peter Ellis have been visiting establishments as Pets As Therapy volunteers for over 2 years. Peter told us: “As an ex-racer we expected Maggie to be quite an active dog but are pleased to find her a couch potato of some ability! Her calm attitude tolerates close attention from very young children and she loves being touched and stroked. To see her being taken down a corridor in a care home by a two year old visiting an ill relative brings a lump to the throat, and the welcome she gets from staff makes it worthwhile. Maggie, however, is still Maggie!”

Maxey House Care Home in Peterborough is one of the establishments that they visit, where they’re able to provide a therapeutic service for visitors. Liz, Administrator at Maxey House told us that Maggie “encourages them to communicate, provides them with comfort and can lift their spirits if they are in a low mood.”

They also visit the Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice. One patient there, Mhorag, told the Hospice how much she loved dogs, and that she had lost her own dog just after she became ill. The Hospice arranged for Peter and Maggie to be her welcoming committee on the day that she was admitted to the Hospice.

“She has just the right nature – you don’t have to work her out, it has given me such a lift to spend time with her – that touch and smell of a dog is so comforting. The understanding you can have with a dog is so special – you don’t ever have to explain anything to them, you can just be with them.” Mhorag, patient at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice

Abbee and Wendy

PAT dog Golden Retriever Abbee and owner Wendy Jones have been volunteering with Pets As Therapy for over 9 years! They’ve visited Springdale Nursing Home in Brundall, Cringleford Primary School in Norwich, various libraries across Norfolk, the Nelsons Journey centre for bereaved children, the University of East Anglia, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and more!

Lorna, Bereavements Officer at Nelsons Journey told us:“Abbee and Wendy had recently been attending their therapeutic residential weekends to support bereaved children and young people. They attend a well-being session where children and young people can learn techniques on how to cope with their grief when life feels tough, we are particularly grateful to Abbee for being so gentle, loving and enthusiastic in her role. She is certainly helping us to bring back smiles to bereaved children.”

Abbee and Wendy have also been visiting Headway’s Norwich branch, which is a national charity for brain-injured people, and have had many emotional moments there. Wendy told us:

“One gentleman in a special wheelchair had very limited mobility, Abbee seemed to sense this man’s needs and stayed by his side to allow him to move his arm very slowly along her body, his beaming smile delighted us all.”