People from across Norfolk and Suffolk are being urged to make their voices heard by voting for a much-loved pooch to be crowned Pets As Therapy Dog of the Year in a national competition.
Eight-year-old Inca and owner Sheena Scrimgeour, who have made a difference to scores of patients receiving care from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), have made the final six of the contest, arranged by the Pets As Therapy (PAT) charity.
The duo beat hundreds of other entrants from across the country – including 70 from the eastern region alone – to make the shortlist – and now need the public’s support to help them lift the title. They are appealing for people to take a minute to vote for them online at www.yours.co.uk/PATDogs
The pair will find out whether they have won on live TV at next year’s Crufts Dog Show, which takes place at the NEC Birmingham in March.
Miss Scrimgeour, who lives in Hellesdon, in Norwich, entered 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 couldn’t believe it when I heard we had been shortlisted,” she said. “Every time I visit patients on the ward and they say how much they want Inca to win, but I always played down the likelihood of us getting through to the final so that they didn’t get their hopes up. I must admit I’d almost convinced myself that it was out of reach and was just blown away when I got the news.
“I’m very pleased for the patients as they made a great effort to write lovely statements to support Inca’s entry in the competition. I’ve been telling them she’s been shortlisted as I visit the wards and they are all delighted and excited
“The only sad thing is that my mother won’t be able to watch. She thought the world of Inca and loved Crufts and watched it every year, but died in March at the grand old age of 101. She would have loved to see Inca up on stage in the arena in front of crowds of people being recognised for the work she does.
“If Inca wins, I will dedicate the award to her. I’m sure she would have been proud of us both.”
The pair received a raft of messages of support from NSFT staff and service users to help them reach the final six, 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.
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.”
Jennifer Dubois, Volunteer Support Officer with Pets As Therapy, said: “Picking only six dogs to be in the final of PAT Dog of the Year was incredibly hard. Every entry has its own wonderful back story which makes it an almost impossible task. Every year, however, some stand out for their longevity, diversity and the impact they make in their chosen establishments.
“This year the six finalists – including Inca – stood out in this aspect. We wish every finalist the very best of luck – each one is a winner in PAT’s eyes.”
Julie Cave, Interim Chief Executive with NSFT, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Inca has been shortlisted for this national prize. Together with Sheena, she brings lots of smiles and joy to our wards, especially for patients who have had to leave their own pets at home while they are in our care.
“Inca and Sheena are inspirational in the voluntary work they do across our Trust, and we truly hope they’ll pick up the title when they travel to Crufts next year.”
People can vote for Inca by filling in the form in the current edition of Yours magazine or by visiting www.yours.co.uk/PATDogs. Voting closes on 31 December.
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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