Canine OT

Canine OT – yes you read correctly

At Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire, Danny a two-year-old cocker spaniel is taking part in the UK’s first pilot scheme in which a dog is used in the role of an Occupational Therapist. Danny is what is known as an animal- assisted intervention dog (AAI)

In October last year Charlotte Simcock, a young veterinary student only 26 years old experienced a spinal stroke whilst taking a shower. This left her paralysed and relying on a life support machine. She says, like many of us, myself included, she had been fit and healthy and not been aware of any warning signs. Once Charlotte could breathe without a ventilator, she was transferred to Stoke Mandeville for occupational therapy.

A clinical specialist at Stoke Mandeville, Ruth Peachment, knew how widely AAI is used abroad to rehabilitate patients so herself had attended a course. Dog charity ‘Dogs for Good’ and a local NHS Trust collaborated on a pilot scheme.

Ruth said she feels patients, or as I prefer to say stroke survivors, as that is what we are – may have their own dog at home and even if they don’t may simply find them less judgmental than people and they also make mundane rehabilitation more enjoyable.

Charlotte, who does have her own dog at home and by now again like many of us had already been away from home for some length of time missed her dog. She jumped at the chance of being part of such a trial and being introduced to Danny. It was her hope that working in this enjoyable trial with Danny would result in an imhelp her to apply her own makeup, feed herself, pick things up and improve her upper body mobility.

The therapy, obviously under controlled supervision, Charlotte would throw objects and ask Danny to hand them retrieve and return them to her. They also played tugging games which strengthened her limbs. They found that these exercises also led to improvements in other areas also.

Prior to the trial in a rating her performance and satisfaction levels, which many if not all of us are familiar with, were very low. Charlotte had rated her problems at 2.3 respectively after the eight-week scheme, which was one hour each week the scores changed to 6.3 and 7.

AAI dogs cost ‘Dogs for Good’ £12,000 each to train, then, in addition, the cost of their handlers and their keep. This is funded solely by the generosity of the public through donations.

Selina Gibsone,the head of community dog projects at Dogs for Good, explains that Danny was selected because of his personality, size and intelligence and he is small enough to be very flexible but not intimidating to those less familiar with pets at home. Selina explains she has been contacted by other hospitals eager to try such therapy as the outcome was so positive. Charlotte concludes by saying that she has recovered far more than she had imaged possible and intends returning to work as a result. She feels more independent and self-confident – something we know only too well Is extremely difficult to regain following stroke.

Pet power once again.

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