Pets as Therapy - a blog for Children's Mental Health Awareness Week

Lucy the therapy dog brings joy to our young service users at Mill Lodge

This week has been Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week and we’ve caught up with Rhys Harrison about his work with therapy dogs and visits to our young inpatients at Mill Lodge Children and Young People Mental Health Service in York.

Hi Rhys, tell us a little about yourself

I am Rhys, 60, semi-retired, and I have lived experience of mental ill-health. As a Pets as Therapy (PAT) volunteer I work with several charities including Brunswick Organic Nursery, Martin House Children’s’ Hospice, and  NHS Mill Lodge CAMHS Inpatient Unit. I am chair of the mental health campaign group York Ending Stigma (YES), and I am an adult Pathway to Recovery Peer Supporter with York Mind.

Tell us about Lucy and why you decided to have her trained as a therapy dogLucy the therapy dog receiving a dog treat from Rhys in the PAT Team

As my temporary job at the DWP as North Yorkshire Mental Health Community Partner was ending, and we were unsure what the future would hold, my wife suggested I visit a friend whose cocker spaniel had just had puppies. It was love at first sight. Lucy has been really important in supporting my mental health. Having invested in training Lucy, an opportunity came up to visit York University with a friend and their PAT dog. This led to us both becoming trained as a PAT team, passing the stringent assessment.

How long you have been working together?

We have been working as a PAT team since December 2019, COVID interrupting our visits. We were fortunate at Brunswick that, as lock downs ended, our visits restarted with going for outdoor walks with workers with learning challenges. We have supported YES (formally York Time to Change) during Mental Health Awareness Week and October 2021’s World Mental Health Day on Parliament Street York, where Lucy was a big hit with the many young people who stopped for a Lucy cuddle and a chat.

Talk us through your visits to Mill Lodge to visit our young inpatients

Thanks to the great staff at NHS Volunteer Services and the NHS Activities Coordinator at York NHS Mill Lodge CAMHS Inpatient Unit, we recently started PAT visits to Mill Lodge every Tuesday afternoon.

The look on the faces of the young people was amazing when we went through our induction.  The young people have been waiting a long time for a PAT visitor. Sadly, COVID delayed the process.

On our first official PAT visit the children’s faces lit up as they were able to give Lucy a cuddle and pat, and after a little encouragement they individually gave Lucy treats. Later on the children played fetch with Lucy who was amazing, spinning in anticipation of retrieving the ball being thrown by the children.

How do you think people benefit from interacting with a therapy dog

Interacting with a therapy dog has amazing benefits for children and young adults. As a PAT dog, Lucy gives unconditional affection to children and young adults. Their faces light up with joy. Lucy is very tactile, enabling the children to engage their senses in a fun, safe setting.

Interacting with Lucy can provide an opportunity for young people to talk about their mental health in a non-judgemental, safe, environment.

As one of our friends has commented “Having been to CAMHS for several years with our daughter when she was ill with anorexia, I know what a difference a visit from an affectionate Lucy would make to often dreaded appointments”

Thanks Rhys – what a great job you and Lucy are doing!

To find out more about Pets As Therapy please visit