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Four-legged friend helps Lily overcome her fears

​An eight-year-old girl has been awarded first prize in a creative competition after designing a poster showing the progress she has made towards overcoming her crippling fear of dogs with help from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Lily Dewberry, who lives in Lowestoft, was so afraid of the animals that she once pushed her brother into a road to avoid one. But after 12 weeks of help and support from NSFT, she is now comfortable stroking German Shepherd Tula, who is a Pets as Therapy dog, and is happy to feed her treats by hand.

Lily was so pleased with her progress that she even drew a colourful poster showing herself saying “I’m so brave” standing alongside Tula, which recently won first prize in a creative competition run by the NSFT team.

“Lily was referred to the Children, Family and Young Person Service because she has always suffered with anxiety,” said mum Amanda. “We were asked to choose one particular thing to work on which was affecting her life and decided her fear of dogs would be a really useful thing to tackle.

“She has always been absolutely terrified of them, and once pushed her brother into the road to avoid a dog on the way to school. That is when we decided we needed to do something about it.

“We spent 12 weeks working with NSFT, and did a lot of work talking about dogs and watching films before Tula was introduced. Initially Lily looked at her through a window, then was able to be in the same room and gradually got closer to her every week, until eventually she fed her by hand and gave her lots of treats.

“It was amazing and I am really proud of her. She pushed herself out of her comfort zone and, although she is still nervous around dogs, she is generally much calmer than she was. The course has also changed how we talk about dogs as a family, and the way we react when we see them, which we hope will continue to have a positive impact on Lily.”

Anita Guymer, Clinical Team Administrator with NSFT, arranged the competition and is Tula’s owner. She said: “Tula has been a Pets as Therapy dog for around three years, and has often visited people with dementia in Carlton Court. Patients love her and their faces light up when they see her, and she regularly helps to trigger good memories in people who may have kept animals themselves.

“There was one patient who had been at the unit for six months and hadn’t said a word since he was admitted. Tula nudged his hand one day and he started to stroke her, then opened up to me about how he used to have a German Shepherd himself. The staff were amazed and some were in tears – it just shows the power of animals.

“Tula is amazing and never ceases to amaze me. She knows how to read individuals and treats everyone differently. She has worked with six children so far and I burst with pride when I see the difference she makes to them.”

Lily was awarded a family day pass to the Water Lane Sports Centre in Lowestoft, along with a certificate and some art materials for winning the competition. Her poster is now on display at Meridian House, where the Children, Family and Young Persons Service is based, to help inspire other people.