Therapy Dogs Nationwide volunteers put smiles on the faces of residents at Berkshire nursing homes

A Twyford resident and her West Highland white terrier are putting smiles on the faces of nursing home residents across the area.

Lisa Elliott and her 11-year-old therapy dog, Cassie, have been visiting nursing homes on a voluntary basis over a period of about four years, treating residents to a chat as well as a chance to pet and stroke Cassie.

Lisa said: “[It started] when my grandmother was in a nursing home – she was at Cherry Garden nursing home for respite.

“I used to take Cassie everyday to see my grandmother and while we were visiting my grandmother we would go round and visit all the other residents in the nursing home as well.”

The Broad Hinton resident added that, after her grandmother Eileen Gulrajani passed away at the age of 94, Cherry Garden asked the pair to continue visiting the residents.

“It was lovely, it was very nice to be invited back because they made us feel like part of their family and these places are family really.”

In summer 2019, Christine Ferris, an assessor from registered charity Therapy Dogs Nationwide suggested that Cassie take official exams to become a registered therapy dog in order to visit new nursing homes.

After successfully passing her assessment, Lisa and Cassie started visiting the Bridge Court section of Bridge House nursing home in Twyford.

They were previously only visiting places connected to her grandmother, including Cherry Garden, the Henry Tudor ward at St Mark’s Hospital, Clara Court nursing home and Lady Elizabeth House in Maidenhead.

Lisa said: “I will knock on their door, see if they would like an official visit and then we just go in. I tend to pick Cassie up first and I hold Cassie to them so they can say hello to each other. They usually like to rub noses.

“They make them put their hand on Cassie and then eventually I’ll then put Cassie on the floor and Cassie will have a walk around and then we just generally ask that gentleman or that lady, how they are today, what have they got lined up today, are they going to any of the care home activities today, what are they doing?”

Lisa, who visits each care home every four weeks, added: “We sit with them for about 15 to 20 minutes each and they talk about their life, they talk about the names of their pets that they’ve had and they’ve often got photographs on the walls of their rooms that they are in so you can see their dogs and their pets and they always speak fondly of their grandchildren and they always speak fondly of their pets.

“It’s always the things that they remember if anything, in their long term memory that’s what they have.”

Other topics of conversation also include their parents, World War Two and the Royals.

Lisa added: “It is rewarding, you feel that you’ve brought a smile, I feel like I’ve bought a smile, a bit of happiness to somebody’s day.

“I have residents who [say] when are you coming back? You really brightened my day or you made my day. To have those comments makes you feel like you have brightened someone’s day.

“Also, for me it’s not a big thing to take two hours out of my day to go and pay a visit to two or three care homes in a month. It is not a lot really but for those people it’s everything, it really means a lot and I feel that we are filling the gap between when their families come to see them.

“There are so many people I think who could just give an hour in the whole of their month or if they could give two hours for a visit to one care home it would make them feel quite fulfilled.”

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