How Therapy Dogs Continue to Help Hospital Patients, Staff, and Families Through Troubled Times

Whiskey the Westie proves a calming influence at queen Alexandra Hospital.

Kim Latham chats with Lesley Bloomfield, Whiskey’s Owner.

“Whiskey has been supporting children and young people with mental health problems and safeguarding concerns plus adult patients who have had a stroke or who are in rehabilitation. He helps those patients who are often scared and vulnerable”. – Lesley Bloomfield, owner of Whiskey.

“It has been really busy, especially over the last year, and it’s great to be able to take a minute out and wind down by seeing Whiskey. I think therapy dogs are a great way to help staff wellbeing and make work feel more homely”. – Alyssa Horne, medical lab assistant at Queen Alexandra Hospital.

Tell us the story of Whiskey the Westie

I retired from Portsmouth Hospitals University Trust in 2020 and wanted to do something rewarding with my pet, Whiskey. I had seen other pets as Therapy dogs working in the hospital and thought this would be a great way to give some comfort and joy to patients, their families, and staff.  Whiskey has been supporting children and young people with mental health problems and Safeguarding concerns plus adult patients who have had a stroke or who are in rehabilitation.  He helps those patients who are often scared and vulnerable.  Whiskey mainly works on patient, Consultant or Allied Health Professional (AHP) request, this is different from how other PAT dog’s work. 

During the second week of January 2022 Whiskey was instrumental in assisting a young person (17yrs) who was needle phobic and very sick.  The young girl was in a Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) state.  The teenager was critically ill at Queen Alexandra (QA), but unable to have the urgent, lifesaving treatment she needed as she refused a canulae. Whiskey arrived within minutes of being called and helped to calm the patient and enable her to receive the lifesaving treatment safely.

Whiskey has been to the Pathology Department at the hospital to provide much needed support to staff after what has been an extremely demanding and challenging two years due to the Covid -19 pandemic.

Whiskey has prevented young people from getting ‘sectioned’ and assist children going to the operating theatre.

Whiskey has also assisted stroke patients to walk for the first time after their stroke and to bring some love to patients who miss their own dogs whilst in hospital.  Whiskey brings normality back to these pts for a short while especially while visitors have been restricted from visiting their loved ones.

Whiskey assisted a young child (11yrs) with a Barium Meal investigation (Specialised X Ray). Whiskey was able to provide distraction, comfort, and joy. She walked him to the X ray dept, and he was allowed in the X ray room while she was prepared for the procedure. Once completed, she was excited to take his lead and walk him back to the main entrance. This young girl was relaxed, happy and smiling despite a procedure that wasn’t very nice.

How old is Whiskey?

Whiskey is 11 years old, and we’ve had him since he was a puppy.

How difficult was it for Whiskey to complete the training to become a therapy dog? 

He found it easy as he had already reviewed bronze, silver, and gold puppy training certificates.

How important do you feel therapy dogs are in hospitals?

Immensely important. They bring so much comfort and joy to patients, their families, and staff. He brings some normality back into unfamiliar surroundings that often means pain, loneliness, and anxiety for people.

How do patients respond to Whiskey the Westie? 

Whiskey puts a smile on everyone’s face. He smiles himself and that alone brings joy and happiness. Staff are on the floor at his level making a fuss and welcoming him. Whiskey can help people feel ‘special’. He remembers those he knows; he searches for patients and staff that he remembers to say hello and grab a cuddle, belly rub or a reward/treat.  Whiskey does tricks so this is also a great distraction for those patients who are anxious or scared.

Do you think we will see more dogs visiting patients in hospitals in the coming years? 

Yes. There has been a lot of publicity recently how dogs can assist with vaccination (Covid) and to reduce anxiety to those who fear flying providing a Prescence at airports.  So, dogs can use these skills in hospitals for a variety of scenarios i.e., patients who are scared going to the Operating Theatre, having invasive investigations or treatments i.e., chemotherapy or just being admitted to an Intensive Care Unit.

How do other medical staff react when they see dogs like Whiskey on the wards?   Whiskey’s visits have been led mainly by medical staff request. One of the paediatricians at Queen Alexandra Hospital has seen the benefits that Whiskey brings first-hand and uses his skills and comfort to assist those patients in her care who require additional help.  Junior doctors in the Stroke wards also welcome his visits to support vulnerable adult patients.

It is obviously very important that the dog feels relaxed and has a good experience too. What have you learnt from Whiskey in this regard?     

Whiskey knows what he needs do when he visits the hospital. I am with him all the time and that provides reassurance and relaxation.  Once we put his tabbard on and walk into the building he knows why he is there. Whiskey knows he gets rewards, treats, cuddles and love from patients, their families, and staff. Whiskey smiles at those he knows and searches out staff or patients he has seen. He enjoys his visits and loves being popular and famous!

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