We’d like to welcome German Shepherd Zara and her owner Louise Jacobs as the newest members of our Therapy Dog team!
As one of our Trustees, Louise knows first-hand how amazing our therapy dogs are. We’re delighted that both Louise and 7-year-old Zara will be joining us to help spread even more smiles to seriously ill children and young people across our hospital and hospice partners.
Louise spoke to us about Zara, how she became a Therapy Dog and their first visit to University College London Hospital (UCLH).
“Zara is quite a large dog, but her temperament is so lovely – very peaceful and calm. She is very docile and enjoys sitting or lying down rather than standing which makes it much easier for patients when meeting her. She doesn’t mind being brushed or stroked and is very happy to be given treats. I think she particularly likes children and young people and can sense when someone is feeling sad or vulnerable.”
“Our first visit for Spread a Smile was to children and young people at the Proton Beam Therapy Centre and paediatric ward at UCLH. We met in-patients and several children who were visiting for treatment on the day. We joined children in the play areas and some patients stopped to say ‘hello’ to Zara as they were leaving after their appointments.
“We were led by the patients, what they needed and how they wanted to be with Zara. Some wanted to sit down with her and just say hello by giving her a stroke. Some wanted to brush her or give her treats. Some children were a little nervous to start with, but when they saw other children spend time with Zara and saw how gentle she is, they would tentatively approach to say hello and before long, they would be firm friends.
“Zara reacted so well and calmly to all of the children she met. Sometimes she would lift her head or wag her tail and sometimes she would just sit or lie still, enjoying the attention. Naturally she would get more excited when a treat was coming her way! She likes to be stroked just beneath her ear and everyone really enjoyed doing that as Zara purrs with happiness – it was so lovely to watch!
“All of the patients seemed to really enjoy spending time with Zara. Even if they were a bit nervous touching her, I would give them the hairbrush and the nerves would disappear. It was so lovely to see the calming effect meeting Zara had. It was a great distraction, particularly for those who were waiting for treatment and perhaps a little anxious or worried. I had Zara’s water bottle with me and some of the patients were quite intrigued as to how it worked and the fact that she could drink her water carefully without making a mess at all!
“It is wonderful to be part of the Spread a Smile team and I feel so proud of Zara and the difference she made and will continue to make to some of the seriously ill children we support. To see the smiles and moments of relief was truly moving and we’re looking forward to many more visits in the future.”