PAT Stories

Gerry Ochojna & Reika

One child tells Reika her worries and says she always feels brighter afterwards.”

Gerry Ochojna lives in Nairn in the Scottish Highlands and owns a nine-year-old Labrador called Reika. They have been a registered PAT Team for a year and visit Dalneigh Primary School and Drummond Special Education School, both in Inverness.

“There’s an amazing young man at the additional needs school and Reika has helped him with his anxiety about new situations,” Gerry explains. “When he ‘looks after’ Reika, he forgets his own worries and is able to enjoy new experiences.”

Children at the primary school love Reika too. “There’s one little girl there who can spot Reika across the playground and moves at lightning speed to help me walk her inside. The teacher often tells me that the half hour we’re there is the quietest 30 minutes of the week.”

Reika listens to students reading and helps to boost their confidence. “The improvement of some of these children is immense. And the excitement of everyone when we arrive each week is just hilarious. It’s difficult to describe the feelings of joy that our visits bring – to kids, staff and to myself.”

Smiles and laughter
Gerry also takes Reika to Gordonstoun boarding school in Moray. “As a PAT Dog, she helps to calm the children and young adults in the healthcare centre, and they enjoy taking her for walks alongside me in the beautiful grounds. One child tells Reika her worries and says she always feels brighter afterwards.”

The dedicated duo have certainly made an impact as a PAT Team. “The smiles and laughter that always happen, wherever we are, is heart-warming to see,” smiles Gerry. “We get such a positive reaction from everyone. Reika is so calm and loves to be stroked and talked to. She interacts so well with all the kids and never reacts to loud noises or sudden movements.

“I watch Reika lying on a mat on the floor with children, which she seems to love. I think the warmth of her body, and her heart beat, calms those around her.”

A special bond
Reika is not only a special PAT Dog, she’s a special family pet too. “Reika is a retired gun dog and has an amazing bond with my autistic son,” says Gerry. “We initially went to get one of Reika’s puppies for my son. However, when the breeder saw how they bonded, he offered us the mum, Reika, as she was due to retire. They have been inseparable since.”

Gerry adds that it’s a huge privilege to be part of Pets As Therapy. “I find volunteering extremely rewarding and I feel very privileged to be in this unique situation. To see how Reika brings joy and calm to each child is just wonderful. The people that we meet are always delighted to be with Reika.”

 

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