PAT dogs and a child with nurse

Our Blog

What do PAT dogs do, and why are they so important in children’s hospice care?

By Tracy Hole, Activities Coordinator, with input from PAT dog owners, Geoff and Jane

In this blog:

About our therapy dogs

Some of the most unsung heroes in our world are animals. Whether a cat, dog, pony, or alpaca, the unconditional love of an animal can bring enormous therapeutic benefits to the children and young people at Chestnut Tree House.

Dogs in particular make for great therapy pets because of their sensitivities to human emotion and here at Chestnut Tree House, we’re lucky to have regular visits from a pair of whippets called Twiggy and Shrimp who provide comfort, cuddles and companionship to everyone they meet.

Pat dog and one of the children who we support

When owners, Geoff and Jane, retired it meant they finally had the time to get a puppy. Not ones to sit around, they also knew they wanted to do something meaningful with their spare time.

Many years ago, the couple experienced the devastating loss of one of their children who had congenital heart disease and sadly died at just six years old. “During that time, our lives were filled with hospital trips, operations, and constant worry,” says Jane. “So we can really empathise with what a lot of the families go through who are looked after by Chestnut Tree House. We wanted to be able to help, and when we discovered the organisation, Pets As Therapy, we knew Shrimp and Twiggy would be perfect candidates for PAT dogs because of their calm and loving natures.”

Meet Shrimp and Twiggy

Shrimp the therapy dog looking cute

Shrimp (the older, wiser one)

Age: 6 years old
Favourite activity: Exploring the Woodland Walk at the hospice, especially if she’s lucky enough to spot a deer!
Interesting fact: Quite the adventurer, Shrimp has travelled all over Europe in her owners’ motorhome.
Guilty pleasure: Shrimp’s exceptionally greedy and loves anything humans eat - especially bacon and sausages.

Twiggy the therapy dog looking cute

Twiggy (the bouncy, outgoing one)

Age: 2 years old
Favourite activity: Twiggy enjoys meeting all the children at the hospice. She’s very affectionate and loves a hug.
Interesting fact: Unlike most whippets, Twiggy loves water and enjoys a sea swim, even in winter.
Guilty pleasure: Squirreling with Shrimp – they’ve never caught one though, it’s purely sport!

3 ways Pets As Therapy dogs can help children in palliative care

Fun and companionship for everyone

For many of our families who have children who are seriously unwell, their busy lives mean that having a pet at home isn’t possible. But when they visit the hospice, the whole family can benefit from our PAT dogs’ love, loyalty, and companionship. We have one teenager in a wheelchair who would love her own dog, and when she’s here she enjoys being able to hold the lead and take the dogs for walks in the woodland. Then there’s another young man who finds it difficult to engage with people or activities but is never happier than when he’s playing fetch. It’s a joy to see him belly laughing as the dogs chase the ball around the garden. Sometimes we also make dog biscuits with the children that they can feed to them, and we’ve even created paintings of the children’s footprints alongside the dogs which they proudly display on their walls at home.

Therapy dogs can help children with anxiety

The simple act of stroking an animal can have calming effects. And for those children with sensory, social, or behavioural needs who might find it difficult to navigate their emotions, spending time with PAT dogs like Twiggy and Shrimp can help them to relax and feel safe. One of the boys who stays with us doesn’t have much movement in his arms or legs but loves it when Shrimp snuggles next to him on his bed. We’re able to help him stroke the dog and he finds her gentle nature and the feel of her fur really soothing.

Our furry friends can help open up communication

Sometimes when children are going through really difficult times, they can find it hard to express how they are feeling. A little while ago we had a family staying with us whose child had sadly died, and the sibling was struggling to cope with the loss of her younger sister. She was also missing her dog at home, so we arranged for a visit from Doodle, a miniature poodle and real-life teddy bear. The girl sat cuddling Doodle for ages, and it wasn’t long before she felt comfortable enough to start a conversation with one of the therapists about how she was feeling.

PAT Dogs visitin the house

Can my dog become a therapy dog?

After submitting an initial application to join Pets As Therapy, Geoff and Jane met an assessor in a local park.

Geoff says: “The assessment is quite straightforward and took about 45 minutes. They are looking for dogs that would be suitable around children so it’s important that they are friendly, sociable, and calm and that they don’t mind being stroked or handled. It’s also important that they don’t react to unexpected loud noises or sudden movements. Shrimp and Twiggy passed with flying colours, and it wasn’t long before they received their special high-vis uniforms and were ready for work!

Visit the Pets As Therapy website

Follow our PAT dogs on Instagram