Support Pets: TheraPaws

TheraPaws is a visiting animal programme, launched and developed by animal welfare charity, Mayhew.

The initiative has a team of volunteers, who take their assessed dogs into hospitals, hospices, care homes, and day centres across London to engage and interact with older people, particularly those with dementia, providing companionship, building relationships, and brightening up their day.

TheraPaws project manager, Luke Balsam, explains:Dogs act as incredible companions and bring immense amount of joy to anyone who decides to bring one into their life. That’s why it is so important to improve the relationships between humans and dogs and to make aware the positive benefits they provide for each other.

“The idea for TheraPaws first came about eight years ago after a volunteer noticed the attention and amazing response she got while taking her dog to visit her mother in a care home. The programme was later officially started by Mayhew in 2012.

“At present, TheraPaws has 50 teams of humans and dogs devoting their time to visiting over 40 different venues across 11 boroughs in London including Kensington and Chelsea, Brent, and Westminster.”

“Dogs act as incredible companions and bring immense amount of joy to anyone who decides to bring one into their life.”

What role does a dog play for the at-need?

The initiative has been shown to have mutual benefits for both humans and dogs, and improving the relationships between the two. As well as enhancing people’s lives by helping to reduce social isolation, anxiety and stress the programme also helps animals by raising awareness of the positive effects dogs can have on humans. It also leads to an increase in awareness of why we should look out for our canine friends, and changes people’s myths and opinions of different dog breeds. TheraPaws volunteers can see the benefits and how worthwhile it is taking their dogs on these visits, having witnessed first-hand the positive impact that it has on the residents and patients from the way they become more alert to the smile that spreads across their faces when they enter a room. It gives residents and patients something to look forward to, encourages them out of their beds and sparks conversation, which can lead to unlocking memories and emotions.

What qualities do dogs need to possess to be suitable for the position?

The most important qualities to becoming a TheraPaws dog is that they have to have a calm temperament, react positively to meeting strangers, and be comfortable with having their tail, head, ears and body touched. They must also be able to take food gently from a hand, walk on the lead without pulling and recover quickly from loud noises.

The whole process of qualifying as a TheraPaws volunteer and dog can take up to three months and involves interviews and dog assessments. This is to make sure they are both suitable and comfortable meeting different people in a new environment.

TheraPaws volunteer, Lisa Carson, explains how she participates with Therapaws .

How did you get involved in TheraPaws?

I am a movement therapist and yoga teacher. Marley has always been present in my session upon the request of my clients. Marley’s presence relaxes the clients and aids to their sense of wellbeing and their ability to move into a safe space. So I began to research how I could help other people with Marley and I found TheraPaws.

What does Marley bring to the residents he visits?

Marley brings a sense of joy and calmness to the residents. He encourages social interaction and aids in unlocking emotions and memories. When the residents stroke and pet him it brings mobility to their bodies as they have to move their bodies to reach and stroke him sometimes. Marley knows as soon as we walk into care homes that he is going to work and he can change his energy from running and chasing squirrels to being patient and loving.

Can you tell us a little about Marley?

I got Marley when he was 12-weeks- old. He is a Labrador/Lurcher mix. He is a very sensitive dog and senses how you are feeling. When he is on his daily walk in Highgate woods he loves to play and chase squirrels. Marley is always close by and gives you his seductive eye look all the time meaning ‘take me out for a walk’.


What qualities do dogs need to possess to be suitable for the position?

I feel dogs need to be relaxed and be comfortable with changing environments. Be comfortable with lots of people around them, having their bodies stroked and petted and not reacting if there are sudden loud noises. Also the owner needs to be very sensitive to their dog’s energy levels and know when it’s time to finish the visit.

TheraPaws receives no lottery or government funding and we rely entirely on public donations. If you would like more information or to donate, please visit www.themayhew.org


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