Tell us about your role

I’m working for two days a week as a community dog handler alongside Rita, a German shepherd cross golden retriever.  Initially, I have been working with Bracknell Forest Council for one day a week supporting adults with learning disabilities and autism.  I’ve been working with the social care team and working alongside the occupational therapists and social workers to support young adults living at home or in a supported living / social care setting.  My other day is in Cheltenham at Charlton Lane hospital and Rita and I are based mainly based on a specialist dementia care ward, although I’ll also visit people at home.

What’s the best thing about your role?

There have been lovely moments of interactions between patients on the ward and Rita. One man’s face lit up when he saw Rita for the second time and we had a really good session where he was able to ask me if Rita was a ‘therapy dog’ and told me about his own dog. For this particular patient this was a huge moment of insight as he is quite often not ‘in the moment’ with you. Quite often the presence of Rita will strike up conversations with patients about dogs they’ve had or known.

Patients are also really motivated to interact with her and to take part in our activities. She provides a focal point for patients and a common interest, especially in the group sessions. Rita’s very gentle nature and her keenness to meet people and be made a fuss of makes her very well suited to the role. Interacting with Rita also relieves anxieties for some patients and can interrupt negative thought patterns. She does her ‘task work’ really carefully and concisely which again has been very beneficial to her role and the patients really respond to this.

How has your previous experience helped you in this role?

I have spent the last three years working as a paediatric therapy assistant for a local authority, which has really helped me with this new role. I worked alongside occupational therapists and physiotherapists working with children with disabilities, implementing treatment programmes, working on set goals and doing community visits, so all really relevant experience. Also previous experience through my roles as an instructor on the Family Dog workshops and a trainer have been very beneficial, especially with intervention ideas and training Rita to support her in her role.    

Find out more about our special community dogs, or meet Sarah, a Community Dog handler.