Therapy dog Alfie, is based at the Spiritual Care Centre at Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital, part of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT). Here, he provides wellbeing support for patients, visitors and colleagues as the team’s ‘Head of Happiness.’
The cockapoo graduated as a therapy dog earlier this year and now works with Chaplain and Therapy Dog Practitioner Rachel Fielding, to support individuals across ELHT.
Alfie first joined ELHT at just nine weeks old in January of 2022. Over the course of his training, he has been taught to be gentle and well-mannered with all people in any environment. He was initially assessed in the home to judge whether he can remain calm in familiar settings. From here, he was introduced to more unfamiliar places such as hospitals.
As part of his training, Alfie was also tested against a number of other requirements, including being non-reactive to loud noises, listening to commands and taking treats politely. In the first week of his arrival, Alfie even had the honour of meeting the Prince and Princess of Wales at Clitheroe Community Hospital.
At 18 months old, Alfie has graduated as a therapy dog and can work across the whole of ELHT.
He regularly visits staff and patients in the hospitals, including the children’s ward, to provide companionship and comfort in a clinical setting. He can now also visit patients facing end of life care to support them and their families.
Alfie works and lives with handler, Rachel, and her own dogs. She said: “I see a huge benefit to patients who meet Alfie – from enabling conversations, supporting therapies, allowing a silent presence to be comfortable and simply being seen walking around helps to promote both staff and patient wellbeing.”
The benefits of therapy animals
Research suggests that therapy animals, such as Alfie, promote well-being and can improve an individual’s mood.
In recent years, the use of therapy dogs has become more wide-spread, as they have been introduced to schools, care homes and hospitals, where the benefits have been noted. Specifically, it is believed that therapy dogs help relieve anxiety, prevent loneliness, and even lower a person’s blood pressure. In schools, therapy dogs are also used to help regulate emotions and encourage children to socialise.
“For patients, I feel it is important to have therapy dogs like Alfie as they enable a little bit of the outside world to enter a very clinical and sometimes scary environment,” said Rachel. For ELHT, Alfie has been said to have a significant effect on patients and they describe his impact as ‘immeasurable.’ Rachel added: “No two days are the same. Alfie has a super fan club in our staff and knows where to go for tummy rubs.”
Alfie was brought to ELHT by funding from the Trust’s charity ELHT&Me, using a grant from NHS Charities Together. The Trust say that they are immensely proud of Alfie and look forward to seeing more of his positive influence in the future.
Find out more about Alfie and support his work here.