We caught up with the Wellington Hospitals Foundation and Canine Friends dog volunteers to learn about the amazing work they’re doing in Wellington Regional Hospital and meet the furry stars of the show.
John and Arlo, a nine-and-a-half-year-old White Swiss Shepherd, have been doing canine pet therapy for over five years and visit WRH every Tuesday, along with Cathy and Tiny, a nine-and-a-half-year-old Papillion Pomeranian cross. Cathy adopted Tiny when he was three and has been doing canine pet therapy with him for about a year.
John and Arlo can usually be found in the ICU, Te Whare o Matairangi, “and Ward 6 South if I’m kidnapped!” They also drop by Kenepuru Community Hospital on Wednesdays where they visit all the wards, “a couple of the youth rooms out the back and pop into recovery on the way out.”
When going round with them, Arlo received lots of pats from ICU patients and their whānau but it was the staff who you could see were most excited by his visit. He was greeted by the ICU nurses whenever they spotted him; a simple ‘Hey Arlo’ was thrown out as they walked past him. You could tell Arlo was a happy fixture in the ICU; a point even more highlighted when entering an office – Arlo was met with gushing staff who jumped out of their chairs to pat him! The dogs clearly provide some much-needed relief to both patients and staff.
ICU administration staff with Arlo
John explained that Arlo is usually very tired once he makes his way to the staff room in the ICU. It can be overwhelming and stressful for him; lots of smells, sounds, and people. Tuesday’s are a big morning for Arlo so he will usually have a big sleep when he gets home. So does Tiny.
Cathy explained she and Tiny visit Ward Three, the senior ward, and then hop over to Te Wao Nui. “We get the two ends of life, which is lovely, and I would say Tiny really loves the children in the hospital. He lived with three kids before we adopted him and I think he misses them!”
Tiny has lots of friends in the Children’s Cancer Service; there is a group of girls who look forward to his weekly visits. The ward was mostly empty when we were visiting but Tiny still managed to find three friends who gave him lots of cuddles and even took him for a walk round the treatment room. He had a snooze while lying on a patient’s bed, looking very comfortable while they showered him in pats.
Cathy and Tiny in Te Wao Nui
John and Cathy explained not only do patients and their whānau benefit from the dogs, but staff enjoy the pet visits too.
"They're always so thankful and appreciative when you’re visiting, it’s amazing. You walk around and the staff will say ‘Oh thank you so much for coming in.’ It’s just really good for them,” said John.
“Even people who don’t particularly like dogs have thanked me for coming because they can see there’s a positive benefit,” Cathy said. “This is a place where people are not always having their best day so you don’t really know the impact you’re having, but sometimes just being there, petting them is enough.”
John has seen the impact on patients in the ICU from Arlo visiting. “We’ve had a couple of ICU patients who have been unconscious when they’ve seen him [Arlo], and when they’ve come round in either the ICU or the ward the first thing they remember is feeling a dog. We’ve had people who have touched the dog – just rested their hand on him – and all of a sudden their thumb will start to move and that’ll be the first movement they’ve had in quite a while.”
Charge Nurse Manager Ruth and Associate Charge Nurse Manager Michelle with Arlo
Cathy has to lift Tiny when she comes to a patient’s door, “and then you can tell right away if their faces light up, so I go ahead in the room and I usually ask if I can sit Tiny on the bed. It’s almost always a yes and he somehow has this instinct to snuggle.” Cathy explained when visiting the older patients with Tiny, they love to tell stories about their lives, the dogs they’ve had, and the history of Aotearoa.
Cathy’s experience with Canine Friends and the Wellington Hospitals Foundation has been great, with it being “really well organised and we always feel welcome.”
Sally Barton from the Wellington Hospitals Foundation says it’s a “lovely collaboration” between Canine Friends and the Foundation. “It’s a very happy partnership between the two charities.”
If you see Arlo or Tiny wandering round with John and Cathy, go and say hello, and make sure you sneak in a pat or two!