The Only National Awards For Non-Medical / Non-Clinical NHS Staff & Volunteers

How Pets Can be Our Unsung Heroes

8th May 2020

Unsung Heroes can come in many shapes and sizes – and this includes furry and four-legged. Whether you are a cat, dog, or even a reptile loving person, there is no denying the positive effect a pet can have on your well-being.

UHA Team with Holly the Therapy Dog at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

‘Pets as Therapy’ is a renowned charity founded in 1983, whose aim is to enhance health and well being in the healthcare community via providing hospital visits from volunteers and their assessed and trained animals. These visits provide companionship and friendship to patients in hospitals, both old and young, and helps to improve the lives of people suffering from mental and physical health conditions, such as; Autism, Stroke, or Dementia. Additionally, Therapy Pets have also been known to help children with literacy and improve their confidence and enjoyment of reading through the read2dogs scheme.

Therapy pets are also doing their bit during the Coronavirus Lockdown and comforting many during a time of national stress and worry. The BBC recently reported on how residents at a care home in West Lothian in Scotland had a visit from alpacas as they ‘chatted’ to them through the window! The same report also mentioned a one-year-old training service dog called “Wynn” in Denver, USA, who has been handing out hugs to health workers on their ward.

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More local to UK, a therapy dog handler at Southampton Children’s Hospital has launched an innovative alternative to ward visits for young patients during the Coronavirus outbreak. Lyndsey Uglow, Lead Therapy Dog Handler at Southampton Children’s Hospital has delivered 1,500 drawings, produced by illustrator Daniel Howarth, of the Trusts therapy dogs for the children to colour in and give to relatives and member’s of staff.

Research into the role of pets on our well-being has been carried out at the Royal College of Nursing, based in London. This research has suggested that there are many benefits of pet ownership, including enhanced physical and psychological well-being. For example, such research has found that stroking a pet can be relaxing and can result in a reduction in blood pressure, as well as have a positive effect on anxiety. With all of this in mind, it’s no wonder why so many NHS Trusts now use their very own Pets as a Therapy program.


Therapy dog Molly from Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust winning at the 2018 Unsung Hero Awards


At the 2018 Unsung Hero Awards, we crowned therapy dog Molly, of the Frank Lloyd Unit at Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust as the Winner of the Special Mention Award, showing just how much of an impact pets can have on patients within the NHS. 

In 2018 we also met Holly during our visit to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, who was constantly bringing joy to the children, patients and staff at the hospital with her companion Barry, a registered Therapy Dog Handler.  

Alder Hey, who were shortlisted in 2019 for the 2020 Disability Champion category wrote on their Facebook: “Holly is a Labrador Retriever and visits 2-3 times a week. Holly helps our young patients relax and feel less anxious and on her most recent visit, it looks like she found a new best friend in 5 year old Summer. 

We reached out on social media recently and asked if there were other Trusts or Pets as Therapy pet owners who wanted to share their stories with us and we got a huge response from all over the country.

One response was from a well-known therapy dog called “Doug the Pug” from Buckinghamshire. Doug has worked as a therapy dog for Pets as Therapy for nearly nine years and has supported children in varying establishments who hold many challenges, as well as helping individuals in elderly care help rekindle memories from their past and help them socialise.

Doug the Therapy Pug during National Story week, where the children read to him. Taken from the official Doug the Therapy Dog’s Website


Doug has also won ‘Most Heroic Hound’ Award at the National Pet Show in 2016 for supporting individuals with Mental Health Challenges and his owner, Cate Archer, had this to say: “Doug came into our lives, as an unofficial therapy dog to help a poorly family member during times of loneliness and isolation due to a long term chronic illness. It was through this that I realised how many people, suffering ill health, often don’t want to be alone but haven’t the strength to talk or listen”.

“Doug is like the most wonderful comfort blanket and encourages anyone with him to feel that they are in a safe, discreet place. We so love the work that we do. And feel so fortunate to work with people on their journey of recovery.”

If you have access to an animal during this isolated time, don’t forget to give them a big hug, as the current environment is a big change for them, as well as it is for us.

We hope we get to see some more of these lovely Therapy Pets nominated and shortlisted at our future awards!

For more information on Coronavirus, click on the links below:

There is also a wellbeing hotline to support staff and volunteers as they help people deal with the Coronavirus:

0300 131 7000
Text FRONTLINE to 85258


Lily Harrison, Freelance Writer at Unsung Hero Awards