Hospital launches innovative study into effect of therapy dog visits on children's health

Leo and Oscar Haskell on G2 ward at Southampton Children's Hospital

Five therapy dogs and their two owners are leading a groundbreaking study into the effect their ward visits at Southampton Children’s Hospital have on patients’ health and wellbeing.

The project is a collaboration between University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, charity Pets as Therapy (PAT) and The Humanimal Trust, an organisation founded by renowned orthopaedic-neuro veterinary surgeon Professor Noel Fitzpatrick to promote and establish closer links between animal and human healthcare.

It is hoped the study, led by dog handlers Lyndsey Uglow and Karen Ramsay with their therapy dogs Leo, Jessie, Totty, Hattie and Archie, will help inform the future use of animal assisted intervention (AAI) across the NHS.

The first stage of the study will involve collating feedback from children, their parents and clinicians who have already had direct experience of PAT dog teams at Southampton Children’s Hospital via the completion of surveys.

Other studies will follow to look at the psychological and physical impact and the effect of engagement and patient compliance with treatment and therapies and how that can alter patients’ recovery processes.

Lyndsey has been visiting patients at Southampton Children’s Hospital and Southampton General Hospital with golden retriever Leo three days a week for the past five years.

She holds a qualification in animal assisted therapy, activities and learning from the Institute for Human Animal Connection at the University of Denver in Colorado and, with Leo, received an award for volunteering at the annual UHS Hospital Heroes event in March.

“We know from the constant anecdotal feedback we receive from patients, families, staff and members of the public just what a positive impact our visits have on patients and their families and that in itself provides an immense feeling of satisfaction,” explained Lyndsey.

“However, to really find out the true value of therapy visits and to firmly establish it as beneficial in healthcare, we have to strengthen the evidence behind it and this collaboration gives us the perfect opportunity.”

The Humanimal Trust has been established to reconnect human and veterinary medicine, particularly within the areas of the physiological and biological connections of disease – an approach known as One Medicine.

The study into AAI aims to explore the effect of the emotional bond and what role this plays in health and wellbeing for humans and animals.

Lyndsey added: “Our starting point is the impact of dogs with children, but the same principles could, over time, be mirrored into other departments and into veterinary healthcare – for example, if animals recover better in a veterinary hospital or with their human family and if family visits aid animal recovery.”

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Posted on Thursday 1 June 2017