Patting beats blogging says top dog-blogger
My name is Maisie and though I say it myself, I'm a pretty special dog. If we ever get the chance to meet up we can say hello in the proper way, with a sniff and a pat, but till then it will have to be Dog-Blog!
First things first, I suppose. I am a seven-year old Cavalier King Charles spaniel in a very fetching tone of ruby, which is the rarest colour for my breed. But that's not really what makes me special.
Where I stand out from the pack, so to speak, is that I am what's known as a PAT dog. Pat stands for Pets as Therapy – a national charity that provides therapeutic pet visits to hospitals and other places where people need extra TLC.
Three or four times a month I visit our local hospital, Walsall Manor, and try to cheer up the patients by letting them stroke me, cuddle me or have a little walk with me if they are well enough.
Nice work if you can get it, I hear you say. But it's not as simple as that of course. Being a PAT dog is a big responsibility and all of us are carefully selected. Because we go places where people are ill or old or frail we have to be especially calm and gentle (and also incredibly well behaved, super-clean and extra-delightful. Just saying).
My lovely owners Linda and Phil contacted Pets as Therapy a year or so after I came to live with them at the age of three. I had to have special assessments. There were medical checks of course. Then I had to go into a room with strangers where they made a lot of noise – dropping trays and clapping and so on to see how I'd react . And after that I had to eat some treats, which wasn't very hard! But I found out later it was to show how gentle I was when I took food from someone's hand. People always say I'm a lady so it wasn't a problem.
On my first visit to Walsall Manor Hospital I don't think either of us knew what to expect. I could tell that Linda was quite nervous. Anyway, we went onto a ward for people who have had strokes. As we walked in there was a lady near the window with a nurse and I heard the lady say "Can I go and pat the dog?"
The nurse was surprised because this lady had been in hospital for two or three days and had not felt able to eat or get out of bed. But it turned out the lady had dogs at home and she was missing them. So Linda and the nurse put a pillow on her lap, and I sat on that and she stroked me and cuddled me and cried a bit, but I think that was a good thing because by our next visit she was a lot better.
These days I mostly visit the children's ward at Walsall. I'm there so often they call me the ward dog. The children and the nurses love to see me and I love them too. Occasionally, I meet a child who is frightened of me but then I'm extra still and quiet. I once spent 20 minutes facing away from one little boy so as not to scare him. He started by stroking my tail, then my back and by the end I could turn around and he was playing with my ears! His Mum was so grateful because before that he was a boy who would cross the road if he even saw a dog coming.
So here's my most exciting news. This weekend Linda and I have been invited to take part in the PAT dog parade as Crufts! We offered to help on the PAT stall and then they invited us to be in the parade. There'll be 12 of us dogs in all. Six of them have been nominated for an award but I'm with the other six just joining in. We've been for a rehearsal and it was brilliant because I got to meet other PAT dogs and their owners. We just have to walk through a tunnel and walk round a bit and walk out again. I expect it will be noisy, but I'm good with that, as I may have mentioned.
In between I'll be on the PAT stall with Linda and she'll talk to people about PAT dogs and about Kissing it Better and all the great work we do, so maybe other dogs and their people will get involved.
Meanwhile, I'll be keeping up my hospital visits and the odd bit of fundraising. Last year I was standing outside ASDA in Walsall with my Kissing it Better collection tin and a lady in a wheelchair came out and said "You're Maisie. You came to visit me in hospital." Then she started crying because she was so pleased to see me.
It just goes to show what a little visit and a touch or a pat can do.
I am very grateful to Pets as Therapy, my owners Linda and Phil, the Healthcare charity Kissing it Better for contacting Pets as Therapy and, of course, to Walsall Manor Hospital for allowing me to come onto the wards.
Finally, special thanks much go to Annie Goodyear, from Kissing it Better, whose interest in patient care and her love of animals made her the perfect person to help me write this.