Service users benefit from canine company

People with mental health issues and learning disabilities in Leeds have been enjoying the company of pets as part of their recovery.

Occupational Therapists, Claire Simpson and Hannah Gregg, introduced animal therapy to service users at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust after reading about the potential health benefits.

Claire said: “As occupational therapists our role includes assessing service users’ functional ability and looking at ways of improving and enhancing their experience on the wards whilst they undergo medical treatment. After reading about the benefits animals could have it was something we really wanted to try out.”

Hannah added: “I asked our service users on the wards whether they’d enjoy animal therapy and took their feedback to the ward manager. When she agreed it would be valuable, I registered with the charity Pets as Therapy. From there I was put in touch with a volunteer who agreed to visit with her therapy dog.”

Claire invited Pets as Therapy volunteer, Steve, to the Older People’s Inpatient Services at ThePicture from Pets as Therapy visit at The Mount Mount in Leeds with his Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Aspin. The service is for people with acute mental health needs including dementia, where assessment, treatment and rehabilitation are provided over 24-hours per day in a hospital setting.

Claire said: “One of the most rewarding moments for me was when a gentleman with severe dementia, who I had never seen speak or smile, motioned for Aspin to go over to him with his hand. His face broke into a huge grin and when I asked him if he had ever owned a dog he clearly replied ‘yes’.

“To some that would seem a small interaction but to see the joy he experience within that moment was worth all of the hard work it took to get the visits off the ground.”

Aspin’s owner, Steve Goodson, volunteers with the family dog. He said: “My family has had experience of dementia so I was keen to volunteer in my spare time.

“Aspin is a perfect therapy dog for The Mount as she’s really calm and well-behaved. Some service users don’t react but the ones who do usually have a big smile on their face and tell me about pets they’ve had in the past. If you can make someone with dementia happier, it’s magical.”Image of therapy dog Bibi

Hannah invited Pets as Therapy volunteer Victoria and her Cavapoo, Bibi, to the Acute Inpatient Services at The Becklin Centre. The service at The Becklin Centre is for people who have complex and acute mental health needs, and have significant risks which need to be managed in a 24-hour care service.

Hannah said: “The idea is that pets can help improve social and emotional functioning in people and bringing Bibi onto the ward has encouraged conversation and interaction between service users and staff.

“What I enjoy most is seeing the service users sitting together and sharing stories about pets they’ve

had in the past which they may have otherwise kept to themselves. It’s also really important to get feedback following the visits to ensure service users are enjoying them and want them to continue.”

Pets As Therapy is a national providing therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes and special needs schools from volunteers with their pet dogs and cats.

For more information on the charity, and to find out about volunteering, visit

You can hear Kitty Plowright, also an Occupational Therapist at the Trust, talk about volunteering with her dog Brian in this video about Trust volunteers.