This month we have chosen to focus on the positive impact pets can have upon the rehabilitation and lives of the residents at Oakleaf. It began with Occupational Therapist Louise Ward attending a Stroke Project Awareness Day at Pets As Therapy (PAT) in High Wycombe. Then the submission of a proposal to the management team outlined the many benefits of having PAT visits and the potential issues to consider which included allergy, phobia, attachment, infection control, safety and the potential for upsetting memories.

With the proposal and referral process approved, the application was submitted to PAT in Spring 2011. Due to a lack of suitable volunteers in the area the first visit from Nola and her beautiful Labrador Ella did not take place until January 2014.

Since then the visits have been fortnightly, involving between six and fourteen residents. It became apparent that an informal group approach suited, with Nola and Ella spending time with residents in turn within communal setting – allowing broader interaction.

To the outsider the benefits to quality of life are apparent, but within the context of therapy the benefits of the PAT visits are immeasurable! The sessions can be used to encourage walking, social interaction, communication and bilateral hand movement through throwing, petting and feeding…..or even simply getting out of bed.

Positive responses from Ella build residents self esteem and reinforce positive behaviours. Our volunteer Nola is also superb with our gentlemen reinforcing our approach and nurturing self esteem through discussing their achievements and progress.

Several of the residents have built positive relationships with Nola and Ella, someone outside of the Oakleaf staff. Throughout the visit there is a good deal of laughter and smiling, each visit lifts spirits and the residents look forward to the next visit.

One resident reported a fear of dogs. He is informed that Ella is coming and did choose to spend time elsewhere though now remains in the room with her without issue.

The staff also find the visits uplifting, witnessing a resident’s first smile, having them recall Nola and Ella’s names or independent walking following months of hard work in Physiotherapy are equally as rewarding for the multi disciplinary team.

Concerns such as vaccinations, animal temperament, records checks are dealt with by Pets As Therapy. The multi disciplinary team assess resident’s suitability for the visits. Thankfully no residents are allergic to animals though visits are communicated throughout the organisation to manage potential issues and staff allergy.

For information on Pets As Therapy please see https://www.petsastherapy.org