jasper & kelly.jpgIn February, Kelly Marsden, Named Nurse for Safeguarding Adults at North Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, visited the Trust to spend a couple of hours with David and Jasper to find out about the role of therapy dogs.

There has been an increasing understanding and acceptance of therapy dogs in spaces such as hospitals, places where animals of any kind were not traditionally accepted, and as I walked the wards at Royal Blackburn Hospital with Jasper and David, I not only witnessed how accepted Jasper was, but how he was clearly an integral team member of the hospital.

Jasper is in fact quite the celebrity, with masses of people asking to stroke him; patients and staff members alike. David gave me the job of ensuring everyone’s hands were sanitised prior to and after touching Jasper; to avoid cross-infection. In truth I don’t think David thought I was particularly good at this; you really had to be on your toes, however, David did acknowledge I’d got better as the afternoon went on!  I was fortunate that David was well-rehearsed and for those I almost missed, he was there to request ‘gel hands’ and pick up my slack.

Throughout the afternoon we visited adults and children; some of whom were sadly reaching the end of their lives. I witnessed first-hand the comfort Jasper gave.

As a nurse who has worked in Palliative Care I know it’s often difficult to find words for people who have just received devastating news, the standard ‘are you ok?’ or ‘how are you?' Often seems insensitive or misplaced.

Jasper had a soothing effect on those we visited, and the simple act of touching him appeared to ease their anxiety.  I witnessed people cry, be joyous and even communicate for the first time since their arrival in hospital. Jasper and David enabled patients to broach emotive topics, achieved through Jasper’s animal instinct and David’s emotional intuition.

We visited a patient who just an hour before had received some devastating news, her life expectancy was short. She, like me was in her thirties. I could not begin to comprehend her inner turmoil and was in awe of her bravery. She had met Jasper and David before and welcomed us in.  As she stroked Jasper, she laughed, cried and shared some of her biggest fears. Research has supported that Therapy dogs like Jasper can provide a safe opportunity for people to talk about what might be considered uncomfortable topics and as I reflect on our interaction this was evidence of this in practice.  The conversation flowed as we laughed and cried in between turning our attention to Jasper. Jasper led the conversation entirely; simply by his presence.

 It’s not just patients that Jasper offered therapy to that day.  We visited the ICU and spoke to some of the team about the impact of COVID on their own health and well-being. Jasper was clearly no stranger to the ICU team, they all knew him well and greeted him with delight. David explained to me Jasper assist with group and individual therapy sessions for the team.

I observed that Jasper was able to bridge a gap that in my view no person was capable of that day, particularly when people were unable or didn’t feel able to communicate. Whilst my view on therapy dogs prior to meeting with Jasper and David was generally positive, having had the opportunity to bear witness to the impact of canine therapy in action, I am now officially a huge advocate and supporter of the amazing work that they do.