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Caring canines bring patients comfort and joy
Animals cannot cure illnesses but they do play an important role in people's lives.
This year the theme of Hospice Care Week (October 5-11) is Connecting Care and two Tibetan terriers have been bringing great comfort and companionship to patients at Saint Francis Hospice.
Mercedes and Bentley have been making regular visits to the Day Care Unit and the Inpatient unit on a Monday where they have been putting a smile on the faces of patients and staff alike.
They are among 4,500 dogs that have been trained by the charity Pets As Therapy (PAT) to provide therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, care homes and special needs schools and help people to feel less isolated and withdrawn.
Their owner Linda Simons (pictured with Mercedes and Bentley) signed her beloved pets up to the charity's rigorous training programme two years ago as she knew people would benefit from their calm and gentle nature.
"Coming to hospice is so rewarding and we love going around to see every patient who wants a visit," said Linda, from Barkingside.
"They sense the people who need their energy.
"The reaction from patients has been fantastic and I know the dogs can help them in different ways.
"There was a gentleman who could hardly move and when he saw the dogs he asked to stroke them.
"They brought him such joy and he couldn't stop smiling."
Dogs are incredibly intelligent and intuitive animals.
They have been helping blind people to live independently for more than 80 years.They are able to detect seizures and research suggests that they can even detect cancers.
And there is evidence that stroking a pet can be good for your health by reducing stress and blood pressure.
"They can help people with heart conditions and blood pressure problems," said Linda.
"It has been proven that stroking a dog or any pet for that matter can bring blood pressure down.
It is a de-stress therapy."
Linda's belief in the wellbeing that animals can bring people comes from personal experience.
"I used to have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and when my husband was ill he never left his side," said Linda.
"My mum was ill for quite a long time and Mercedes and Bentley used to sit with her and I always noticed the smile on her face.
"They gave her wonderful comfort."
But while some people may doubt the health benefits a pet bring there is no question that they can improve a person's quality of life by making them feel more content and less stressed and alone.
"It is pretty obvious when the PAT dogs come in that some patients feel the benefit," said Tracy Cunningham, Day Therapy Services Manager.
"Their faces say it all, their smiles and tenderness towards the dogs and the owner, often reminiscing of their own pets, who are often companions to them throughout the ups and downs."
Linda is also encouraging other dog and cat owners to get involved so more people can experience the well-being that being close to an animal can bring to their lives.
To find out more visit the charity's website at petsastherapy.org.
This is what two patients from the Day Unit had to say about meeting Mercedes and Bentley:
"They make you feel that you are not so isolated and that you are normal," said Margaret Johnson, 68, (pictured) who has lung cancer and visits the Day Unit every Monday.
"When you know they are such gentle dogs you feel at ease.
"Being able to pet a dog means you are able to do something normal, something that isn't medical.
"If you come here and don't have animals at all a dog must be a great comfort, especially if you were used to having animals."
Alan Harris, 85, (pictured with Mercedes and Bentley) who also has lung cancer, said, "When I walked in to the Day Unit and saw them I was so excited. They were so beautiful and so attentive.
"They did not care who they talked to.
"They treated everyone the same.
"I have had animals in my life for as long as I can remember and they are such wonderful companionship."