Monday, 17 November 2014

Woofs With.... A Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog owner

We were delighted recently to catch up with Leisl, and her two gorgeous orange roan cocker spaniels Muppet & Krumble.  We wanted to find out all the ins and outs of PAT work - Muppet has been a registered PAT dog since 2006, and in 2011, won PAT dog of the year!

So first of all, for those who don't know, what is Pets As Therapy?

Pets As Therapy is a national charity founded in 1983. It is a community based charity  providing therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other establishments from volunteers with their pet dogs and cats.

Since its beginning over 28,000 dogs have become registered PAT dogs. Every year some of these wonderful dogs need to retire and new dogs, having first passed a health, temperament, and suitably assessment, join Pets As Therapy.

Tell us about your gorgeous dogs, Muppet & Krumble

Leisl with Muppet & Krumble

You can read all about Muppet and Krumble on our website - Muppet is bomb proof and perfect, Krumble is super intelligent and possessed by the devil! 

Muppet has been a registered PAT (Pets As Therapy) Dog since January 2006. She regularly visits the children’s wards at both the Royal United Hospital in Bath and The Barbara Russell Children’s Unit at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. She brings joy and happiness to over 100 people a week.

Krumble came to live with us in March 2010 and has been keeping us on our toes ever since. She is a bit of a "work in progress!"  Full of beans, she is very savvy and wilful.  This abundance of energy needs to be channelled into agility or Rally-O I think.

Why did you want to join PAT?

Like everyone else I firmly believed I had the best dog in the world and wanted to share her with everyone.  Muppet came with me and did everything, she had a fantastic temperament and was really well socialised as a puppy, nothing phased her.  I am a medical rep and spend my life in hospitals.   I had vaguely heard of Pets As Therapy and the work it did and I thought I would find out more.   We contacted the office and were sent the details of an assessor.  

What does the PAT assessment involve?

Muppet was put through her paces.  There were no surprises as all of the assessments are clearly stated on the website but there are several key elements to the test.  The dogs have to be able to sit / wait quietly for long periods of time.  This perhaps is one of the harder things.  I meet a lot of people now who say “my dog would be a great PAT dog” but their dog has just spend the last 10 minutes jumping up, barking and pestering them!  Also the dogs have to be bomb proof, and I mean bomb proof.  Sadly in society there is still little education about how to interact with dogs, their body language etc. and often someone will run up from behind and throw their arms around the PAT Dogs or there may be an overzealous ear tug and the dogs cannot react.  We do a noise test to make sure the dogs are not fazed by loud bangs, squealing children etc..

The volunteers (i.e. me) also have to be referenced too, after all, although you are never left alone with a patient / resident etc. it is really important that we are who we say we are and have no skeletons in the closet!

Describe a typical PAT day

Muppet winning HiLife PAT Dog of the Year in 2011 at Crufts

When we first started visiting, we used to go to a residential home (this was after all why Pets As Therapy was formed, for those people who had to leave their homes and their pets behind). It was good fun; residents who never usually interacted with anyone or anything would suddenly become animated, look forward to Muppet's weekly visit and recite stories of the dog that lived on the farm when they were growing up!  Unfortunately we had to stop visiting there as everyone kept trying to feed Muppet biscuits and I don’t mean just one biscuit but custard crèmes, jammy dodgers etc. and it got crazy.  They then got two visiting Labradors and we moved on to the Children’s Ward in Bath where access to food was more limited (although Muppet does like visiting after lunch when one of the kids may have dropped the odd chip or pea on the floor).

We have been at Bath for 7 years now and they have totally embraced the concept of Pets As Therapy.  She is often talked to, read to, dressed up, etc. and she actively takes part in examinations as a distraction.

Muppet also used to visit the Barbara Russell Children’s Ward at Frenchay in Bristol but it was very different to Bath.  On the whole the children in Bath are well, they are there for elective surgery, knees, teeth, tonsils etc. but Frenchay was a specialist unit for very sick kids.  There was a lot of burns and neuro patients.  Often we were there just to stimulate eye movement and focus rather than to be physically interacted with but the kids would make much more effort to interact with Muppet than they would with a toy or a person.

Sadly not every child we meet gets well and we have said goodbye to some cracking, courageous and humble children over the past 8 years.  In March 2011 Muppet’s work was recognised and she was awarded PAT Dog of the Year in front of nearly 10,000 people at Crufts.  The hospitals, doctors and patients all nominated her and I was absolutely thrilled.  In September this year I attended a collection with Pets As Therapy at Bristol Temple Meads Station and we were greeted by one of our former long term patients who has made great progress.

Being greeted at Bristol Temple Meads Station by an old friend

On the whole we try and visit every 2-3 weeks now as I have to try and fit it in around work. My Dad recently had a stroke and the Matron of the Stroke Unit agreed for Mupps to visit “Grandpa”! We hardly got to see him as we were mobbed by patients and staff but I am pleased to say that dad has made an excellent recovery and is now back at home.  The Charity, Pets As Therapy, have approx. 100 PAT Cats too!  They are particularly good for stroke rehabilitation work as they can easily sit on someone’s lap.  Sadly there are not more cats, not because they won’t make excellent visitors but because a) they have to walk on a harness and b) they have to travel to the venues in cars and on the whole the cats hate that part!

What do you love most about owning two PAT dogs?

Muppet at work

Although Krumble is also a PAT Dog, in the main I tend to let Muppet fly the PAT flag. Krumble is great for charity collection work, she is gorgeous and draws the crowds in but she is still a completely bag of beans and although she has a fantastic temperament she wants to visit everyone at 100 miles an hour. I let Muppet do the PAT work and Krumble is my Super Sniffing Search Dog!  We are only ever allowed to use one dog at a time, so at Crufts it is handy that I can work one while the other rests. Its normally a full on 4 days for us so down time is really important.

What would be your best piece of advice for someone thinking about joining PAT?

Please, please, please do not be disappointed if your dog does not get through the assessment. As an assessor (I became a temperament assessor for the charity about 9 years ago) I have to be 110% sure that dog is bomb proof.  I cannot have it on my conscious if they growl or react in a negative way.  It could be something minor which can be easily worked on.  Often is down to the handler not reading the situation / dog correctly and with practice this can be overcome.

Also I would encourage people to have a think about the sort of place they want to visit.  There are hundreds of places wanting a PAT Dog and if you become a successful visiting team then your area co-ordinator may suggest some establishments but not all people want to work with children, disables, mental health etc. and that is fine.  We would far rather you said no than going somewhere that you and your dog are both miserable visiting.  If you pass a residential home every day and think, I’d like to go there, then make contact as see if you can visit.  Also, as volunteers we work with establishments on the frequency of our visits.  If you can only visit once a month then that is fine but don’t say you will go every week and turn up 1 week out of 4.

A huge thank you to Leisl, Muppet and Krumble for the opportunity to find out about more about PAT!  We really enjoyed this interview and hope you did too!

To find out more about Pets As Therapy, click here for the website
To see more lovely pics of Muppet and Krumble, click here!


  1. Sounds like a fantastic organization
    Lily & Edward

  2. Oh, that is one FABulous job!!! Being a PAT doggie must be the bestest job in the worlds!!!
    Thanks so much to that organization!! What amazin' work to bring smiles to the faces of those who need it!
    Better than a margarita! (okay, maybe that was goin' too far....☺)
    Ruby ♥

  3. You are doing wonderful work with your pups! I would love to have our girl Missy become a therapy dog. She is extremely patient around people of all ages, and just loves to be loved. We have started training for this task, and included (falling) crutches and taught her to jump up on a chair in order to get petted by someone confined to their bed. Unfortunately, Missy has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and had surgery to have the tumor removed a few days ago. Everything went great, and the cancer hasn't spread.

    Hopefully we'll be able to continue our therapy pup journey sometime next year.
    We wish you all the best and applaud the wonderful, wonderful work you do, and smiles you bring into people's lives!

  4. It was nice to meet your lovely friends Muppet and Krumble! They do such a good job! Pets make a big difference to people in the nursing home where our human works.

  5. What a great post! And lovely pictures. :)

    I have some of my training clients who are sometimes interested in therapy work. It can be so rewarding and fun. Unfortunately, the hard part is people who want to do it, but who have dogs that are not suitable at all. Those can be hard conversations.

  6. Very interesting. Our Thunder passed his therapy dog assessment but we just never had any time to actually go on the visits. Thanks so much for sharing this on the hop!