A much-loved Pets as Therapy (PAT) dog is hoping to bag top prize in a national competition after making a real difference to patients receiving care from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).
Eight-year-old Inca and owner Sheena Scrimgeour hope to beat hundreds of other four-legged friends to the final six of the PAT Dog of the Year competition, which would see them invited to attend next year’s Crufts where the overall winner will be announced.
Miss Scrimgeour, who lives in Hellesdon, in Norwich, decided to enter Inca after receiving fantastic feedback from NSFT staff, service users and relatives about the difference she has made to them – with some even crediting the Labrador/Staffy cross as “saving their lives”.
“I’ve been really touched by the notes I’ve received from people who have benefitted from Inca’s visits,” she said. “It’s fantastic to see – people often tell me they were about to ask for medication as they were feeling stressed, but no longer needed it when they saw Inca walk onto the ward.
“I met one lady whose daughter credits Inca with saving her life – she said she lived for her visits. I also received a beautiful story from a man in prison who said meeting Inca had changed his life.
“She will simply stand alongside a patient and put her head on their lap – it seems to come to her quite naturally and she really seems to help people get through challenging times.”
Miss Scrimgeour and Inca have been volunteering with Pets as Therapy for the past six years. They visit Hellesdon Hospital every Monday, The Julian Hospital on Tuesdays and the Norvic Clinic on Fridays, as well as fitting in regular visits to Hellesdon High School, a prison and the University of East Anglia.
“Inca has a lovely nature and just loves people, and seems to know she is doing something beneficial,” added Miss Scrimgeour. “She thoroughly enjoys the interaction and I can tell she gets pleasure from the visits.
“I’ve always wanted my dogs to have a rich and varied life so decided to volunteer with the charity after I retired. I’m also really interested in research which shows the benefits which animals can bring to people. They are great for mental and physical wellbeing, help people to manage stress and lower the pulse and blood pressure. All in all, they provide people with a real ‘feel good’ factor.”
Inca and Miss Scrimgeour have received a raft of messages of support from NSFT staff and service users in their bid to bag the title, including:
• “Sheena will come onto the ward and brighten up the whole place with her personality and the way in which she interacts Inca with us patients. I have become very fond of them both… I always look forward to Sheena coming along with Inca and bringing us joy.” – patient on Catton Ward at the Norvic Clinic.
• “Inca’s calming, gentle personality and warm approach makes you feel like you are the only person in the world she loves. My own wellbeing, along with that of our service users, continues to be ‘uplifted’ by Inca (and Sheena’s) presence. It is hard to put into words the impact Inca has when she visits. I can sum it up by saying you feel her presence in your heart when she is around.” – Julie Warren, NSFT Chaplain and Spiritual Care Lead.
• “Inca is a beautiful dog with a lovely calming nature. She is gentle and loving and will happily sit and be stroked by everyone. I believed she has a very positive impact on all she meets and I know that her visits are very eagerly awaited and enjoyed by many...” – Veronica Rackham, Thurne Ward, Hellesdon Hospital.
Carole Adam, who is the Pets as Therapy coordinator for Norfolk and has worked with the charity for more than 20 years, said: “The response which people have is just overwhelming. We’ve seen patients who have not spoken for years suddenly say a word or two, while the animals are great for generating conversation and giving people the chance to join in.
“The PAT dogs help people feel less isolated and give them confidence and self-esteem. We’ve even had people tell us the visits give them a reason to live.
“Inca has a fantastic ability to empathise and communicate on a different level. She seems to hone in on people who are very vulnerable and give them a sense of worth and wellbeing.
“She has a real natural ability and it would be great to see her do well in the competition.”
NSFT Chief Executive Michael Scott said: “Many of our patients will have had to leave their own pets behind while they are in our care. That separation, temporary or otherwise, is very emotionally distressing. So to be able to spend a bit of time with Inca can make them feel grounded again, hopeful and give them a gentle reminder of what is waiting for them when they are well enough to return home.
“Both Inca and Sheena are inspirational in the voluntary work they do for our patients, as are all of the PAT dogs and owners. Inca is definitely our top dog and we hope she will be Pat Dog of the Year too!”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering with their dog or cat can find out more about the criteria by contacting Mrs Adam via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carole is also happy to visit community groups to talk about the charity’s work in return for a small donation.
To support Pets as Therapy, visit http://petsastherapy.org/
For more information about volunteering with NSFT, visit www.nsft.nhs.uk and click on the “get involved” link from the homepage.
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