Friday, 11 December 2009

Pets As Therapy

Luka was the star of the drop in session held at Yarm Library in February.

Luka is a Bernese Mountain Dog which weighs 8 stone 2 lbs. His front paws are the same size as my hands.

The Pets As Therapy charity has approximately 3500 dogs and 90 cats visiting people throughout the UK. Luka visits the retirement homes of Ayresome Court in Yarm and Hawthorn Lodge in Stockton on a regular basis.

His owners, Susan and George Evans, are registered volunteers for the charity. The visiting scheme is accepted as therapeutic and brings happiness to people of all ages in various kinds of establishments. It is the largest scheme of its kind in Europe. The dogs are recognised by the Royal College of Nursing and welcomed by many medical authorities.

Luka has recently started to visit libraries. At Stockton Central Library in January, he and his owners had an audience of over fifty at a Books and Banter meeting. It came as a bit of a shock to Susan and George when they were asked how long their talk would last! Luka took it in his stride – it just meant there were more people than usual to stroke, cuddle and talk to him.

Pets As Therapy have a simple fact sheet covering their application and registration process to help you decide if you would like to become one of their volunteers. Two character references are required – for you, not for your pet. Your dog or cat has to have a vaccination certificate. Volunteers pay an annual subscription but receive no payment for undertaking visits.

The dogs and cats come in all shapes and sizes; pedigrees, cross-breeds or mongrels. They must be older than 9 months and to have their temperaments assessed by a local assessor or vet. The pet should be sociable and friendly, calm and gentle when stroked or handled, and not afraid of new unexpected stimuli. The dogs wear a yellow jacket when they are working. An identity tag and a photo ID tag are also worn by the cats and dogs. Volunteers also have a photo ID badge. Dogs must be kept on a lead during visits.

Details of the scheme may be found on the charity’s website –

As you might expect the drop in session at Yarm was a relaxed and informal affair. The local press sent a photographer to cover the event. One lady came to pick up information about the scheme as she wants her young Cocker Spaniel to become registered with Pets as Therapy when old enough. A second lady came just to see Luka. Her mother at one of the retirement homes had told her about one of his visits.

I’ll admit I went to see Luka as well. He’s a lovely dog but I wouldn’t want his food bill. He won a local dog show a few years ago. Susan and George had hoped to show him at Crufts. The Kennel Club would not accept him for the show when they learned that he had had a dislocated elbow – a common problem with dogs of this breed.

At home Luka has the run of the house, downstairs only. When he was young there was a ‘baby’ gate two steps from the bottom of the stairs. Although the gate has gone, Luka may put his paws on the two steps at the bottom but never attempts to go any higher.

Bernese Mountain Dogs have a double coat and shed a lot of hair when they moult. Susan says Luka’s gives her a never ending job with the vacuum cleaner. Luka has two walks a day in the local park where he knows every corner; he gets taken there in an estate car. He has a special ramp to enable him to climb into the back.

More details about Bernese Mountain Dogs may be found on:


In March came the bad news:

I was informed by his owners that Luka has had to be put to sleep. He was found to be suffering from an inoperable cancer and peritonitis so his vet recommended that he be put down.

He was a lovely dog and I am sure he will be remembered by everyone who met him at the Care Homes.

It was a privilege for me to write about him

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