We spoke to Pets As Therapy volunteer Patricia Bland about volunteering with us for the past 20 years, as well as her additional roles as Assessor and Volunteer Coordinator. This is part of our series of volunteer stories.
Name: Patricia Bland
Role: Pets As Therapy volunteer; Pets As Therapy volunteer coordinator; Pets As Therapy assessor
Location: Godalming, Surrey
PAT pet(s): Two dogs, Fleurie and Margaux
Breed: Flatcoated Retrievers
Age: Fleurie is 6 and Margaux is 3
An interview with Patricia Bland
Have you always had pets?
Yes I’ve always had animals around me, even when I lived in Germany and East Africa as a child. We had dogs, cats, horses, and chickens. Now, we’ve had dogs at our country cottage since 1980, mostly as working gundogs.
As a child they were companions and friends to me and they still are. They’ve very much become part of my life – it’s difficult to imagine life without them.
“Dogs have very much become part of my life – it’s difficult to imagine life without them.”
When did you become a Pets As Therapy volunteer?
I have been a Pets As Therapy volunteer since February 1999 so this will be my 20th anniversary of joining.
What made you decide to volunteer with Pets As Therapy?
I had a Golden Retriever named Chablis who was not keen on life as a working gundog, and so I wondered what else I could do with her. Her mother and grandmother were both Pets As Therapy dogs and so I investigated this. Chablis turned out to be ideal as a PAT dog! Since then, five more of my dogs (all Flatcoated Retrievers) have been PAT dogs, including three generations: granny Merlot, mother Medoc and daughter Syrah.
What does a typical Pets As Therapy visit look like for you?
I visit two completely different places: The Clockhouse Day Centre in nearby village, Milford, and Ladywell Convent in Godalming. I visit each one every four weeks for about an hour or so, so we have a visit every fortnight in total. I have to alternate the dogs because they look the same to other people, so I always have to explain which is with me!
At the Day Centre many residents had dogs throughout their lives, so they really enjoy the company of mine. At the Convent many of the Sisters also had dogs during their lives, and they enjoy meeting my dogs as well as telling me about the dogs they had too.
Although the visits are all about the dogs, they’re also about me chatting with the residents, with the dogs acting as an introduction: as volunteers we need to be good communicators.
How do Fleurie and Margaux find the visits?
I have found that my dogs love interacting with new people at the Day Centre and the Convent and also at the various other events. It is their special time which they do not have to share with any of the other dogs I have at home. When Chablis became my first PAT Dog she had three Flatcoats at home who all had their place in the working gundog world, on a shoot or in competition, so being on a PAT visit was her own special time and this feeling still continues with my current PAT Dogs.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
A smile! If I can bring a smile to even just one person it makes the whole visit worthwhile.
“I have heard the phrase ‘that’s the best thing that has happened to me’ so often and it is quite humbling to think that your dog is making such a difference to someone else’s life.”
I have heard the phrase ‘that’s the best thing that has happened to me’ so often and it is quite humbling to think that your dog is making such a difference to someone else’s life. We think we are just wandering in with our own beloved pet who keeps us happy, not really realising just how much of an impact these friendly animals have on others who may be lonely or depressed. There have been occasions when we have been told not to bother a particular resident in a care home as they never want to speak to anyone but having walked by them, the dog will stop to greet the person who will often reciprocate and even start talking – albeit to the dog – to start with!
And you also work as a Volunteer Coordinator for your region?
After years of being a dog trainer, I had become a Kennel Club Examiner for the KC Good Citizen Dog Scheme, and decided to become an Assessor for Pets As Therapy as I felt I could contribute to the charity via this as well as through volunteering. When I went on the instruction course, I asked what the coordinators did. No one was sure, so I asked my own coordinator who immediately asked if I would like to be one. I investigated further what was involved and decided that I could cope with the work that it entailed, so I took over from the previous coordinator in the area. We rapidly increased the number of volunteers.
Being a Pets As Therapy coordinator means that I look after 130 volunteers in my area. I help any new volunteers to find a suitable establishment to visit, that works both for the volunteer and for the dog. I also organise events in the area which lots of the volunteers come along to. So far this has included: visiting universities and colleges during exam time to help relieve students’ stress, visiting special needs holiday camps (for children and adults), holding an information stand at local village fetes. I also give talks on the charity from time to time, promoting what we do and helping to find new volunteers or donations.
What would you say to someone interested in applying to be a PAT volunteer?
Just do it! It can take only a small amount of time out of your life and it brings so much joy to others who are not as fortunate as you are.
To register your interest in becoming a Pets As Therapy volunteer, please fill out our short application form.
You’re a Pets As Therapy assessor as well! What does that entail?
I became an Assessor in July 2008, and since then I’ve assessed most of the current volunteers in my area. When people apply to become a Pets As Therapy volunteer their pet has to go through an assessment to make sure that they have the right temperament to volunteer – they need to be steady, friendly, not be spooked by odd noises, be happy with strangers petting them, take a treat gently and walk well on a lead. The assessment takes about an hour, and during it I’m also observing the relationship between the dog and the owner.
If all is well, I’ll then tell them that the dog has passed the practical side of the application and that they’ll now be passed to the next stage, where their referees will be contacted by the Pets As Therapy head office. I’ll then introduce them a bit more to volunteering in the area: the local establishments that volunteers visit, and the events that we hold.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Photo credit: Richard Pendrill
Photo 1: Patricia and PAT dog Margaux visiting The Clockhouse Day Centre in Milford
Photo 2 & 3: Patricia and PAT dog Fleurie visiting Ladywell Convent in Godalming, Surrey
Photo 4 &5: Patricia and PAT dog Margaux visiting The Clockhouse Day Centre in Milford