A study into the effect of therapy dogs on the wards at Southampton Children’s Hospital has shown overwhelming support from staff, patients and families for a nationwide rollout. The research was led by Pets As Therapy volunteer Lyndsey Uglow, and supported by fellow volunteers Karen Ramsay, Hannah Ramsay, and Liz Wilkinson

The therapy dogs research

Lyndsey Uglow has been a Pets As Therapy volunteer for seven years, visiting Southampton Children’s Hospital with several different dogs over the years, starting with her first PAT dog, Monty. She loved her volunteer role and became fascinated by the interactions she was seeing between her dogs and the patients. So, she decided to study the subject. In 2016 she achieved a Certificate for Animal Assisted Therapy, Activities and Learning from the University of Denver. The certificate saw her visit four hospitals in America to observe how they use therapy dogs.

Her studies taught her that you should always be looking for feedback to understand where things can be improved, and so she decided she wanted to conduct research into the use of Pets As Therapy dogs in the hospital she visits herself: Southampton Children’s Hospital. Alongside fellow Pets As Therapy volunteers Karen Ramsay, Hannah Ramsay, and Liz Wilkinson, Lyndsey conducted an anonymous survey to find out what Hospital staff and the parents of patients treated there who had interacted with Pets As Therapy dogs during their visit felt about the service.

The results of the survey demonstrated overwhelming support for therapy dog provision at Southampton Children’s Hospital. 100% of staff and parents surveyed recommended that the service should be rolled out to other hospitals across the UK. The research and results have now been written up as a research paper, which was published in this month’s edition of the British Journal of Nursing, with the title: The benefits of an animal-assisted intervention service to patients and staff at a children’s hospital.

Lyndsey had also been particularly interested in whether Pets As Therapy dog visits were only appealing to those who had owned dogs of their own. They found that, actually, patients who lived in households without dogs benefits the same amount as those who lived with a dog in their own home. Those who reported nervousness around dogs prior to meeting a therapy dog were also found to be more accepting of them once they had received a visit, which the researchers feel will be beneficial to those children as they grow older.

Some of the questions within the survey invited open responses, and some of the comments the team received include:

    • ‘I will never forget seeing you whilst my little one was poorly and the difference you made to her recovery.’
    • ‘Love the therapy dogs.  Distracted my normally nervous daughter whilst she was having her video telemetry.’
    • ‘Thank you for helping with (A) yesterday.  I don’t think we would of made it to theatre without the dog.  You help her lots.’
    • Lovely to meet you and thanks again for the large part in getting her through it (MRI scan) without sedation or anaesthesia.’

We spoke to Pets As Therapy volunteer and lead researcher, Lyndsey Uglow, to find out more about her volunteering, and the study she conducted.

Our interview with Lyndsey

What made you apply to become a Pets As Therapy volunteer?

My youngest son had acute myeloid leukaemia in 2008 and really missed our dogs.  Once he was fully better I wanted to do something to give back to the hospital that saved his life.

How long have you been volunteering?

I have been visiting with my dogs for seven years.  Monty my first PAT dog started my love for the role. 

Fascinated by the interaction I was seeing I decided to study the subject.  In 2016 I achieved the Certificate for Animal Assisted Therapy, Activities and Learning from the University of Denver.  This took over 350 contact hours with the university and saw me visit four hospitals in the USA to observe how they use therapy dogs and conduct their AAI.  It was truly fascinating.

Once that was completed I was invited to be on the committee that developed the Pets in Health Protocol for the Royal College of Nursing which was published in 2018 and is at the core of the Pets As Therapy guidelines for hospitals.

What’s a typical visit like at Southampton Children’s Hospital?

I usually visit three times a week with one of my three PAT dogs.  We are part of the Southampton Children’s Hospital therapy dog team that I lead which comprises four Pets As Therapy volunteers and six dogs.  We plan our visits to ensure that each ward of the children’s hospital receives visits regularly. 

In addition, about a third of the visits we do have a component of formalised Animal Assisted Intervention.  This is where a member of the healthcare staff will request specific support for a patient.  This could take so many forms such as:

    • assisting a physiotherapy session
    • escorting a patient to the X-ray department for a special scan
    • escorting to the operating theatre doors
    • assisting the play therapy team with distraction techniques and support in the peri-operative period
    • supporting siblings visiting a poorly family member.

Are there any particularly memorable stories from your seven years of volunteering?

We have so many lovely stories to tell after seven years.  In the last twelve months to April 2019 the six dogs and four volunteers in our team at Southampton Children’s Hospital have seen 1900 patients and of that more than 550 have had some form of Animal Assisted Intervention. 

There are many patients that have left an indelible memory, some because they have made massive progress from a dire situation and some because sadly, after a really big battle, they lost their fight to survive.  Some also leave us with fond memories because of quirky things they do or say.  No one patient is any more special than another, they all mean a lot to me because we have shared time enjoying the human-animal bond. 

No one patient is any more special than another, they all mean a lot to me because we have shared time enjoying the human-animal bond. 

Given your dog therapy research, do you think dog therapy should be standard in hospitals?

I would love to see teams in all types of appropriate healthcare environments.  Before focussing primarily at the children’s hospital I visited care and nursing homes and these are also very rewarding. 

The paper was published at the end of April 2019 and is already having an impact which makes me very proud.  One researcher has contacted me to say she has used it in her dissertation, another member of staff working on a PhD is seeking ethical approval for a project we will be involved in.

It is a very exciting time and I look forward to seeing the continued development of this very beneficial service.

 “The positive effects of AAI have been clear to me for such a long time and I am delighted the patients and staff who responded to the surveys have confirmed this.”

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 marketing@monchu.uk.

We are also always looking for new recruits to carry on the incredible work that volunteers like Lyndsey do. If you are interested in volunteering for Pets As Therapy, please fill out our application form, and we’ll be in touch.