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    • 06 May, 2020

    Virtual TheraPaws visits help keep spirits up 

    Since the beginning of March, we have been making changes to the way we work in order to protect our staff, volunteers and service users during the coronavirus pandemic.

    As part of those changes, we temporarily suspended our TheraPaws programme to reduce the risk of infection for those most at risk – including elderly and vulnerable people inside hospitals, hospices, day centres and care homes.

    We knew that our TheraPaws visits would be sorely missed, and given their proven mental health benefits, we were keen to look at how we could replicate the benefits of animal assisted interventions virtually, whilst keeping our volunteers, dogs and service users safe.

    We are thrilled to announce that we now have 20 volunteers and 10 venues signed up to receive virtual TheraPaws visits via video chats, with more requests coming through every week. Confirmed venues include mental health support and inpatient centres, Special Educational Needs schools, care homes and hospitals all across London.

    We are also proud to say we are beginning to conduct individual video chats with NHS workers, their families and shielded persons, to help raise their spirits in such stressful and unprecedented times.

    One staff member at Collingwood Child & Family Centre, which provides support to young parents and children, said “Virtual visits from the Cassie (their regular TheraPaws dog) will really help the children to connect with others during a time in which it is really difficult to do so due to Covid-19. They have all really missed Cassie, and ask about her every day.”

    Cassie’s owner, TheraPaws volunteer Heather, added “I miss sharing Cassie with other people. We both usually looked forward to our weekly trips to Collingwood, and seeing the children’s faces light up.

    “No matter how old you are, the current situation is very tough, and has removed a lot of our everyday comforts and support systems. Anything we can do to maintain a sense of normality is soothing to all involved, and so I’m relieved to be able to offer these virtual TheraPaws visits.”

    “Anything we can do to maintain a sense of normality is soothing to all involved, and so I’m relieved to be able to offer these virtual TheraPaws visits.”


    TheraPaws Volunteer

    “Young people are our future, and anything that can be done to help them through this unprecedented time seems worth the effort to me.”

    Supporting residents and staff at Lawnfield Care Home

    Lawnfield Care Home in Willesden usually enjoys a visit every week from TheraPaws volunteer Claire and her dog Roobarb. Roobarb is extremely popular in the care home, with staff and residents alike saying that he usually “lights up their week” and “makes everyone happier.”

    Claire and Roobarb have now arranged to do a weekly video call with small groups of residents in turn, ensuring everybody in the care home who wants to gets the chance to see their furry friend. Last week, long term residents Peggy, Lily and Hazel enjoyed their very first virtual visit, which was a roaring success.

    Whilst many care homes including Lawnfield are feeling especially worried at the moment, our TheraPaws visits are able to provide a small slice of normality, and the chance for residents and staff to sit together for a short break and enjoy a fun and heartwarming activity.

    What happens during a virtual TheraPaws visit

    During a virtual visit, patients and residents are either reunited with their usual dog and volunteer, or introduced to a new pair for the first time over video call.

    Service users can see and chat to the dog and volunteer, which helps to remind them of happier times together, and gives them something to look forward to when many other extracurricular activities have been cancelled due to lockdown.Virtual TheraPaws visit

    A study by Mayhew and Middlesex University last year revealed that animal assisted activities can improve quality of life by up to 12%, a benefit which feels even more important than ever right now.

    For venues in which it is impossible to host a live video call, either due to staff shortages, technology limitations or the poor health of patients or residents, TheraPaws volunteers have been recording a short hello message with their dog, to send over and be watched on demand by anyone who might need a quick boost.

    Supporting NHS workers and their families

    TheraPaws volunteer Karina wasn’t able to do virtual visits with her usual venue, but still wanted to help out however she could. We had received a couple of messages from NHS staff members who were known to us through the TheraPaws scheme, saying how much they themselves were missing the visits – and so Karina decided to try and connect with them individually over video call, to show our support for their incredible work.

    One nurse has been working overtime treating COVID patients, and was finding it very hard to be away from her two children so much. We have so far set up two video calls between Karina, her dog Bismarck and the nurse’s family, so they could gather around and spend some quality time together, whilst enjoying a new activity. 

    The two children, Auberie (aged 3) and Amelie (aged 9) were thrilled to meet Bismarck and Karina’s other two non-therapy dogs Digga and Fletcher, who also joined the call. Auberie and Amelia told Karina how proud they were of their mum, and how they both clap for the NHS and draw rainbows to support her and her colleagues. They both showed off their teddies to Bismarck, and really enjoyed doing something a bit different to take their mind off how their lives have changed.

    Karina has already arranged a third video call with the family next week, to give them something to look forward to and offer them a place to chat, relax and offload from the ongoing stresses of daily life in lockdown.

    How we’re planning to help even more vulnerable people

    The demand for our virtual TheraPaws visits is increasing every week, and we are doing our best to support all the venues we usually attend, in addition to offering a more personalised service for those most in need.

    Last week, we connected with an elderly person who lives on her own. Jane has not left her house or seen any of her family or friends for over seven weeks, as she is shielding in line with government advice. Jane’s neighbours have been delivering food and essentials to her doorstep, but, like so many in her position, she is starved of human interaction and “very bored”.Virtual TheraPaws visit

    Two volunteers and their dogs joined a video call with Jane, who luckily is in good health, and was extremely excited to have new faces – furry and human! – to talk to, to help break up her seemingly endless days of solitude.

    We are now hoping to team up with even more isolated individuals, as well as joining forces with a handful of local and national organisations and fellow charities, to expand the services we offer and ensure elderly and vulnerable people in various different situations are not forgotten.

    In addition, some of our TheraPaws volunteers are looking to hold regular phone calls with residents and patients in their usual venues who may not have access to a video platform, to provide a listening ear and help them adapt to a new way of life and prevent them feeling too isolated and overwhelmed.


    Virtual TheraPaws visits

    If you know of an individual or organisation who would benefit from a virtual TheraPaws session, please contact Niamh Carwood at [email protected] to register your interest.

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