“Every Pets As Therapy visit brings happiness to our residents and we noticed positive effects after each visit. Nick and Ghillie are now part of our life here and we would very much like to keep it this way.” – The Ridings Care Home, Banbury

At Pets As Therapy we aim to improve lives. We do this through companionship and animal assisted therapy, with our Pets As Therapy visits to people in need across the UK. Our volunteers regularly visit care homes, like The Ridings in Banbury, Oxfordshire. They’re a residential care home with 48 rooms, specialising in accommodating people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Pets As Therapy volunteer Nick Belson has been visiting The Ridings over the past year with his PAT dog, a 5-year old Tibetan Terrier named Gilbert, but known as ‘Ghillie’. On a typical visit Nick and Ghillie will start in the main communal lounge, where residents are able to pet Ghillie and have a chat with Nick. They’ll then visit other residents accompanied by a staff member. Nick and Ghillie have also supported The Ridings beyond their usual weekly visits, for instance joining them on a 10k walk in Banbury to help fundraise for the residents.

The establishment point of view: Madie Smith

We spoke to Madie Smith, a staff member at The Ridings, about how having Pets As Therapy visits over the past year has supported their residents:

“Our residents always enjoy visits from Pets As Therapy and most of them find it easy to connect with them. Most of our residents have had their own dogs or pets in the past and they always enjoy talking about it.

Every Thursday morning our residents are waiting for Nick and Ghillie to arrive. It is now part of our resident’s routine and they like it very much. Ghillie brings comfort and helps our residents relax.”

We also asked Madie if there were any residents who had been particularly benefitted by Nick’s visits. She told us about one resident who is living with advanced dementia, and has no recall of who the care home staff are:

“I once showed that person a scrapbook we’ve put together with all the activities we are doing. The only photo the resident recognised was one of Nick and Ghillie – it didn’t only look familiar to them, but they could actually remember Ghillie’s name, which I thought was fantastic.”

Pets As Therapy volunteer visit

The volunteer point of view: Nick Belson

Every Pets As Therapy volunteer has their own reasons for deciding to volunteer with us. For Nick, being able to visit a dementia care home has particular meaning. His father suffered with dementia towards the end of his life, and after he sadly passed away, Nick had been thinking about volunteering to support people with dementia in some way. Nick had also got Ghillie after the sad passing of his parents:

“After the sad passing of my parents, something was ‘missing’ in my life. My understanding and patient wife, Caroline, agreed to us having a dog. We both had dogs growing up as children, but Ghillie is my first dog in adult life. We’ve had him from 12 weeks old as a puppy.”

So, when Nick met Carole Galloway, a Pets As Therapy area coordinator, whilst out walking Ghillie in Spice Ball park in Banbury, it seemed like serendipity. Carole told Nick that she thought Ghillie would ‘make a great PAT dog’ – Nick didn’t know what a PAT dog was, but went home, did some research, and registered to become a volunteer immediately. And the rest is history.

We asked Nick how his visits to The Riding are from his perspective, and about the residents he’s been able to support:

“We have our regulars – which is lovely. Some like to give Ghillie a  treat, some like to brush him or stroke him. Most like to have a chat about the dogs they owned in the past, or just have a general chat, you have to be understanding, a listening ear. Ghillie has a very good ear for the tea trolley – which we have to be aware of! Our timing has to be right. Otherwise the very generous tea ladies want to feed him biscuits. They have promised to put some WD40 on the squeaky wheels!

I’m always impressed at the patience and kindness of Madie and her team. They do great work and create a really lovely homely atmosphere at The Ridings. It is really a great compliment that Madie and her team see me and Ghillie as part of
their family.

I’ve met several special people in the last 12 months – sadly some have already passed. A lovely Italian man called ‘Lillo’ had very little English and was suffering from some type of mental illness – he was always very ‘angry’. But every week when we arrived and visited him – his face would light up – his personality would transform just for the 10 minutes we’d visit. Although we had very few words between us – I know Ghillie brought some hope and light into his life for a short while. Lillo passed away several months ago. Hopefully we brought some joy to his final days.

Another care home resident we have gotten to know him and his family really well. He’s from the North East and he loves talking about most sports, in particular Sunderland FC. He’s as sharp as a button. His interaction with Ghillie is brilliant.  He can make him sit or lie down to have a treat. The only thing we have to be careful of… Ghillie doesn’t like us talking about Football!”

Pets As Therapy dog Ghillie

A care home resident point of view

We were lucky enough to hear his perspective on the weekly visits from Nick and Ghillie too. He told us how much he looks forward to spending time with Nick and Gilbert:

“On Thursday I always look forward to two of my favourite visitors: Nick and Gilbert his pet dog. They always greet me, and I know there will be smiles. Nick always carries some doggy treats and he gives me a few, Gilbert then comes and puts his chin on my knee and I say to him ‘say please, I give him some, and as often as I say Gilbert ‘Please’ he repeats the little practice of lifting his paw. You can understand now why there is always smiles when Gilbert visits.”

We want to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to Nick and Ghillie for their first year working with us as Pets As Therapy volunteers. It’s clear to see how important their visits have become to the residents of The Ridings, and the impact they’re having there. We also want to thank Madie Smith of The Ridings, for her support with this article.

Pets As Therapy volunteer visits
Read more volunteer stories

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 dog or cat. To submit your story please contact tabitha@monchu.uk.

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