At Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, there are a number of ways that we support individuals, family members, loved ones and carers but did you know that dogs can play a role in hospice care?
At the Hospice, we have a number of pet therapy dogs who regularly visit to provide affection and comfort to the people we care for. We caught up with one of our much-loved four-legged friends, Boris, to find out how he and his owner Sara are helping to spread positivity and wellness throughout the Hospice…
Great to meet you Boris! Can you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Boris and I’m one of the Hospice’s pet therapy dogs! I am seven-years-old and live at home in Birmingham with my mommy, daddy and little human sister.
If you’re looking at my picture, you’re probably wondering what sort of dog I am. Some people have called me an Ewok, Chewbacca, gremlin, hairy monkey, The Lorax…but the truth is, I’m a Brussels Griffon. Although my breed is Belgian, I was actually born and raised in Brazil where my family used to live. Griffs are still somewhat uncommon breeds so I’m often mistaken for a Yorkie or a Pug!
We hear you volunteer at Birmingham St Mary’s – can you tell us about that?
Absolutely! My mommy (she’s Sara, my human owner) and I volunteer at the Hospice every Thursday. We’ve been coming to the Hospice for the past few months but I’ve actually been a pet therapy dog for five years now.
I really love being a pet therapy pooch! I love being around humans you see, especially as they are so good at giving me belly rubs, which is why my mommy thought I could be a good therapy dog. So I undertook a number of training courses and tests to check my behaviour in different situations and I passed with flying colours (as did my mom too!).
Can you tell us more about your role?
My volunteering role at the Hospice is the best! I get to cuddle lots of different people and love all the fuss I’m given. I understand that I am there to bring comfort and smiles to people, as well as help minimise stress and anxiety.
Normally, I head straight to the Day Hospice and say hello to everyone there. People like to stroke me, talk to me and some even like to take me for a small walk up-and-down the Hospice’s corridor. I’ll also go and visit people who are staying at the Hospice’s Inpatient Unit. When I’m there, I let them decide how they want to pet me – whether it’s on the floor, on mommy’s lap or even on their bed. Some people don’t want to see me but that’s ok – I understand that everyone reacts to me in a different way.
Being a pet therapy dog is very important because I help stimulate social contact and conversation topics. Mommy says that I am the perfect distraction from people’s daily routine!
What does a typical day at the Hospice look like?
First, my mom gives me a nice warm bath with antibacterial soap. After that, she makes sure that I am dry, my nails are clipped and my ears are clean. I always know when I’m off to the Hospice because I’ll see mommy grab her special bag. I get so excited when she picks that up and I will start barking and jumping around.
In her special bag, mommy carries everything I will need for the visit: a water bowl, a towel to dry my beard (just so I don’t drip water on anyone), some tasty treats, and a pen so I can give my fans autographs. Just kidding, the pen is for mom so she can take notes whilst doing our visits.
When we arrive at the Hospice, mom cleans me with a chlorhexidine wet tissue so I don’t bring any germs in with me. And then it’s off to see people! The best thing about this role is definitely the people – I get petted from the moment I arrive to the moment I leave. My tail doesn’t stop wagging the entire time I’m here – I just love it!
How do people react when they see you?
Some people are a little scared of dogs, others are surprised to see me in the Hospice. But most people are really excited. They just want to fuss me and will often talk to mommy about me. Some people have limited mobility or are lying in bed but they still want to pet me, so mommy will support them by gently guiding their hand to my back so they can feel my fur.
What does pet therapy do that humans and medicine can’t?
Pet therapy will never replace medicine and a conventional treatment but it is proven to be a nice complement.
When people pet me, their body releases endorphins which can relax them. Petting can also lower blood pressure and stress levels. The benefits are physical and mental – we can help reduce pain; encourage memory; give someone a reason to communicate; make someone feel safe, comforted and loved; encourage socialisation; minimise loneliness and anxiety; and stimulate some exercise.
Do you just support patients?
Not at all! A lot of people who are visiting a loved one at the Hospice will stop to give me a fuss too. I also get lots of cuddles from staff and volunteers. In fact, anyone who gives me any attention will have those feelings returned. Mommy says it would be selfish of her to keep me all to herself.
What’s the most rewarding part of being a pet therapy dog?
Honestly, I love it all! Every stroke, every smile – I’m just really grateful that I can bring a little bit of positivity with my visits every week.
If another dog is reading this, can they support the Hospice too?
They absolutely can! I know for a lot of busy dogs, volunteering in pet therapy is a big ask but did you know the Hospice is hosting a sponsored dog walk on Saturday 26th October? It’s really simple to take part and I can’t wait for it!
It’s called Walkies and Wellies and hundreds of dogs are getting together at Waseley Hills Country Park to take on a one or three mile walk to raise money for the Hospice. There will even be free tasty goody bags for every pooch that reaches the finish line!
Thank you Boris (and Sara!) for sharing your story with us. If you and your four-legged friend would like to support the work of Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, you can sign up to our fun Walkies and Wellies event here.