Jasper, my Staffordshire Bull Terrier and I are local volunteers in the Gwent area for PAT - Pets as Therapy, and we visit the local school about once a month - we help children learn about looking after pets.
I got involved with Pets As Therapy because I wanted to do something helpful for the community. I take my dog everywhere with me whenever possible, and thought it would be a good idea to give him an activity to stimulate his mind. I had contacted a lady who had a PAT dog and she gave me further information - he was assessed and accepted in June 2004. We also visit the Special Needs units and he really brightens up their day! Jasper is very gentle with the children and seems to know how to behave around them. He seems to be able to distinguish between children who have disabilities and those that don’t, he seems to sense which children are slightly nervous of dogs and those that aren’t. He loves the attention and as soon as he sees his PAT coat he is a completely different dog. He sits patiently whilst I get his lead out, which is a miracle in itself as normally he jumps about and can’t wait to get out of the door!
On our first visit we visited the special needs unit and there was a young boy, about 6 years old who doesn’t smile very often. We had been there for about 10 minutes when I noticed the boy had stopped scowling and was now starting to relax and smile a little. The boy even petted Jas and took him for a little walk around the classroom with me. It’s at times like that when you really see the rewards that PAT visits offer.
A History of Pets As Therapy & What it Does
The unconditional love of an animal is one of the things that are most missed aspects of their lives when they move into care homes or have to spend long spells in hospital.
Pets As Therapy (PAT) is a national charity set up in 1983. It provides therapeutic visits to hospices, hospitals, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and other venues. All those who make PAT visits are volunteers with their own pets. Today there are about 3,500 registered dogs and 90 registered cats in the UK, between them they give more than 10,000 people, both young and old, the pleasure of their company. They visit half a million bedsides each year. These dogs and cats bring everyday life closer and the happy association of home comforts. The unconditional love of an animal is one of the things that are most missed aspects of their lives when they move into care homes or have to spend long spells in hospital.
PAT are in the process of setting in place research to further validate the very real health benefits these animals are bringing into peoples lives whether they be ill or disabled.
What makes a good PAT Dog/Cat?
Each dog/cat MUST be assessed. They are tested on health, temperament, suitability and stability. Each new volunteer must have two character references. The local area co-ordinator then waits for the volunteer to contact them to activate the visiting process. The Area Co-ordinators are supported by Regional Co-ordinators who hold a list of establishments who are looking for a suitable PAT volunteer. Each dog must be at least 9 months old and MUST have been in the ownership of the volunteer for at least 6 months. Any breed, large or small can be a PAT dog so long as they pass the assessment and health checks first. Not every dog can be a PAT dog unfortunately. The assessment includes the dog having his ears played with, having his face touched, his tail being played with, having something being dropped behind him e.g. walking stick and then watched to see how he reacts when the owner is talking to someone.
What is required whilst visiting
At each visit the PAT dog/cat MUST wear an ID tag with the dog/cat picture and PAT ID number. Most also wear a distinctive yellow jacket (as modelled by Jasper). The owners also have a photo ID badge, worn for security at all times. The dog/cat must be vaccinated, wormed and protected from fleas. I also give Jas’ teeth a brush so he doesn’t have bad ‘doggy’ breath.
If you are interested in becoming a PAT volunteer you can find contact details on their website www.petsastherapy.org
Joined: May 2004
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