Willow and I both get such a lot out of volunteering at with the South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. We volunteer because it makes a difference, that in itself it is a good enough reason to do it. However, I have found so many unexpected benefits to volunteering. ..

Volunteering ensures I find the time to stop for an hour or so, to feel more connected to others and less absorbed in the normal stresses of daily life. You strengthen your community and your social network when you volunteer and make connections with the people you are supporting. You share experiences and feel a strong sense of purpose. On a more fundamental level, I have found that volunteering reduces stress and improves well-being.

The Canine Befriending team have set up a new web page, hoping to encourage other volunteers to come forward Canine Befrienders project – South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Click on the link or read on to find out more and how you could join in with this wonderful project.

Louise x

Background

The Canine Befrienders Programme was set up in January 2020 to provide inpatients and staff with the opportunity to experience the many benefits of spending time with a therapy animal on a regular basis.

There is a wealth of evidence to show that spending time with animals can reduce stress, provide comfort and distraction from upsetting experiences and symptoms, promote social interaction and reduce loneliness. Close contact with a therapy animal can often be a deeply spiritual experience as it enables people to get in touch with often hidden and neglected parts of themselves, therefore, allowing feelings and emotions to emerge which can be deeply therapeutic and healing.

How does the programme work?

The dogs visit the mental health inpatient wards with their owners, who give their time voluntarily, on a weekly/fortnightly basis and provide support to several inpatients.

The dogs work either with individual patients or with groups of patients from different inpatient settings. They engage with patients in different ways, as some individuals enjoy just ‘being with’ the dogs and stroking and petting them, some enjoy getting involved in activities such as throwing a ball for the dogs or walking them on the lead, and one of the dogs attends a social group within the hospital.

Reported benefits

  • Some individuals have developed strong connections with the dogs; the dogs provide unconditional feedback which is particularly beneficial for individuals who struggle to form connections/relationships with other people, it also helps individuals develop their communication and social skills
  • The dogs provide a vehicle for communication between patients and staff; some patients who are reluctant to engage with staff are often comfortable to engage with the dogs
  • As a result of spending time with the dogs, some patients have become involved in volunteering with animals
  • The dogs’ visits give patients something to look forward to as well as the motivation to get up and ready in time for the visit
  • The visits create a positive and relaxed atmosphere on the wards which then continues after the visit has finished

About the dogs

The wellbeing of the dogs is always of paramount importance. The dogs are very carefully selected, they must be very friendly and love being around people, they must have a reliable temperament and enjoy being petted and stroked and must be comfortable and confident in new and unusual environments. They must also undergo a formal assessment by an approved dog behaviourist.

About the volunteers

The owners/volunteers are also assessed by the dog behaviourist and have to meet all the standards required by the NHS volunteer recruitment procedure as well as attend a training programme to prepare them for their role.

The role of the canine befrienders

  • Visit inpatient wards
  • Spend time with people on an individual basis such as accompanying people on a short walk around the hospital grounds
  • Visit staff teams
  • Attend trust events

How to get involved

Do you have a dog that is very friendly, has a reliable temperament, loves being around people and is comfortable in different environments?  Would you like to work in partnership with your dog to support people who are experiencing mental health issues? Then we would love to hear from you – our contact details are listed below.

Canine Befrienders Project, Pastoral and Spiritual Care, Fieldhead, Wakefield WF1 3SP

Telephone: 01924 316281 / 6279

Email: angela.barker@swyt.nhs.uk / pastoral.care@swyt.nhs.uk