Therapy dog Betty’s “remarkable” effect on dementia sufferers at York Hospital

Betty gets lots of attention from the nurses. Pic: James Hardisty
Betty gets lots of attention from the nurses. Pic: James Hardisty

For dementia sufferers and their carers, every day can start to become the same.

But for the patients on Ward 37 at York Hospital, one day a week is always a little different thanks to four-year-old Betty, a therapy dog.

Betty and Louise meet dementia patients once a week. Pic: James Hardisty

Betty and Louise meet dementia patients once a week. Pic: James Hardisty

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Betty has been visiting the dementia ward for two years, bringing smiles to the faces of patients and helping them access memories that might otherwise be long forgotten.

Tracey Clark, sister on Ward 37 at York Hospital, said: “Betty has a remarkable effect on patients on this ward who all have dementia as well as medical problems. As soon as she comes in you can see faces light up, even those who are usually unwilling or unable to engage with others.”

Ms Clark said the visit stimulates conversation when people reminisce about their old pets - even patients who normally don’t talk.

She said: “We see patients who are prone to becoming quite agitated, often due to being taken out of their own familiar surroundings, relax and calm down when the therapy dog appears.”

Staff on a very challenging ward also look forward to seeing Betty, she added.

“The whole ward loves it when Betty pays a visit, she cheers up staff just as much as patients.”

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Owner Louise Wilson said Betty has always loved being around people and being the centre of attention. She added: “When we go for a walk people always stop her and make a big fuss. I was looking for a way to do more with her and help other people and I found the charity Pets as Therapy.”

Demand for therapy pets is growing, she said, and the charity is always looking for more dogs like Betty.

Not every dog has what it takes to be a therapy dog though. Betty, a Maltese cross, went through a strict vetting process to make sure she has all the traits necessary for the job, including being calm, good with people and not easily startled.

Betty is able to do some tricks but Ms Wilson said that’s not necessary for a therapy dog.

Ms Wilson said: “I was surprised at first that dogs could be allowed on hospital wards and I think York Hospital have done a lot to get this in place. It’s taken a lot of work from them and I’m really grateful.”