Help arrived in the form of Mark Kennedy from Carmarthenshire Therapy Dogs and his 7-year-old bullmastiff, Olga.
Although she looked a beast, weighing in at 10 stone, Olga was as gentle as a lamb and lapped up pats and cuddles from all who met her.
The visit was arranged to put a smile on the face of the young patients and reduce some of the anxiety that may surround a hospital stay but the staff were equally lifted by Olga’s visit.
Mark said that Olga, previously a show dog who has come fourth in Crufts, was on her first hospital visit.
He said: “This is the first children’s ward she’s been to but she has been to a few primary schools to work with children with behavioural difficulties or disabilities. She’s very non-reactive. Sometimes a child will grab hold of her but she doesn’t react at all. She very intelligent and seems to understand.”
The breed is well suited to such duties.
Mark said: “Bullmastiff are actually known for their gentle temperaments. Because of the size of them they look intimidating, they are extremely muscular, but they are famous for being so chilled-out and gentle – especially around children.
“She’s an unusual dog, being a very big dog, so children warm to her. When they are in hospital and it’s an unknown environment they may feel a bit worried and upset – they sit with a dog for five minute and seem to forget. Even the staff, who can be quite stressed, come in and after five minutes’ walk out with a smile on their face.
“It has long been scientifically proven that being with a dog and stroking a dog raises your serotonin levels and makes you feel happy. It lowers your blood pressure.”
Lisa Morgan, developmental and therapeutic play specialist for Children’s Services, said: “We just wanted to do something different for the children, something therapeutic, different to normal play.
“We have considered pet therapy previously however we were unable to pursue this idea due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Following discussion with the head of nursing we contacted the volunteer department who introduced us to Mark and Olga. We are all excited to finally be able to provide pet therapy for our paediatric patients.
“Some children may never have animals at home so we thought it would be nice for them to have this experience – to stroke a dog in hospital. It would give them some comfort and release their anxiety, and make them smile more than anything.”
All patients who were able were invited to meet Olga in the ward’s playroom.
Lisa said: “I’m really pleased with how it went. It was lovely. Olga was superb. She loved all the strokes and cuddles. The staff all loved her as well.
“The parents were also really receptive towards it.
“But most of all, the children really loved her. They stroked her, were happy, and told her all their stories about being in hospital, what has been the matter with them, and talking about the things they are going to do when they leave hospital. It was really good therapy for them.
“We have already made another date and we are hoping that Mark will bring Olga back on a regular basis to bring lots of smiles to lots of families.”
One parent, Rachel Williams, accompanied her 6-year-old daughter, Sommer Shellam (pictured above), on a visit.
She said: “Sommer doesn’t usually like dogs but once she heard Olga was going to be here she wanted to come and see her.
“She loved it and it made her really happy. She told her all about her stay in hospital.”
Sommer said: “I liked Olga. She was really smooth to pet. She didn’t want to get off my legs. She said this is the spot where I want to stay!”
(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)
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