Southampton Children’s Hospital Therapy Dogs
Southampton Children’s Hospital Therapy Dogs
SCH Therapy Dogs are a team of golden retrievers that provide Animal Assisted Intervention at Southampton Children’s Hospital.
The team have helped more than 10,000 children, many critically ill, bringing smiles of simple joy and a sense of normality in the paediatric wards, including all types of medical and surgical patients, cancer care, and even paediatric intensive care.
When the pandemic hit the UK, the team had been seeing more than 2,500 patients a year but were forced to cease their activities due to the Covid restrictions. They still wanted to support both the staff and children at the hospital so for the 15 months they were off, Leo, Jessie, Archie, Hattie, Quinn, Milo and Pollyanna made Zoom calls to the wards and played educational games via Zoom with those at the hospital school. They also starred in fun videos where the dogs were doing lockdown activities including walks, baking, music, keeping fit etc as well as giving advice on keeping safe and socially distant during the pandemic. ‘Dogtor Leo’ assumed the role of the CMO (that’s a Canine Medical Officer) which provided much amusement for patients, parents and staff as well as the public through their social media following, including their Facebook Page. This not only helped the patients on the wards but also the staff working through the pandemic.
The team restarted hospital visits to patients referred for Animal-Assisted Intervention on 1 May 2021 and are now back bringing their special canine magic to the children and helping to create positive memories of time in healthcare. When a child needs help and support, whether it is for a specific test, as a distraction while a procedure is taking place or in some form of rehabilitation the team works alongside the healthcare professionals to create something for the patient. Young people admitted with mental health issues also value spending time with the dogs and for all patients, they are the bridge between the healthcare professionals and the patients.
Committed to researching the benefit of the human-animal bond in paediatric healthcare and having already had one study published, this team is now part of two research studies in paediatric intensive care. One study is researching the clinical and physiological benefits of a therapy dog visit while in intensive care and the other is looking at the role of Animal Assisted Intervention in early rehabilitation where the handlers create activities with the dogs to work alongside the intensive care medical teams.
Whichever ward they are working on, the dogs don’t persuade or cajole the children, they are simply dogs and their most important role is to create positive memories of a time in healthcare for the children and their families.
“You were only with her 15 minutes and therapy dog Leo made her smile and speak! That was so powerful…she trusted and felt safe with you and Leo and now trusts us. Thank you. Leo achieved where we humans had failed…” Advanced Nurse Practitioner in Paediatric Intensive Care (PICU) – Southampton Children’s Hospital
“Thanks so much for training the dog to wear the anaesthetic mask to show [the patient]. It was great to be able to role play and for her to overcome her fears. Can you be there to escort her to theatre too next week?” Paediatric Hospital Play Specialist, Southampton Children’s Hospital
“I didn’t feel it at all I just concentrated on my other hand stroking the dog and looked at him smiling at me” Patient with phobia of needles having cannula inserted into the back of her hand ready for an operation.
“In many ways, he was my first dog. He taught me all about the love that dogs provide; they don’t care what weight you are or what you ate that day, they don’t care if you’re depressed or anxious … they just love you unconditionally.” Teenage mental health patient
“The dogs bring a sense of normality to a very abnormal and scary situation and so much joy.” Parent of childhood cancer patient
“These dogs have been the biggest and greatest distraction through the darkest times. Their powers to make the worst situations into the best is absolutely phenomenal…thank you will never be enough” Patient with Cerebral Palsy who has undergone multiple surgeries and long-term rehabilitation
“Thank you for organising for therapy dog Milo to be there today while our patient had his premed. We would have struggled without him….[patient] cannot be anaesthetised when he is anxious but a therapy dog really helps him to remain calm and his procedure is then able to take place.” Sister on paediatric surgical ward
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