‘Invaluable’ canine companion service extended

Patients’ wellbeing improves in Larbert hospital with the help of Paws for Autism charity

Tuesday 16th July 2019

Patients staying in the Bellsdyke hospital near Larbert are being encouraged to interact with specially trained dogs brought into the wards each week.

The NHS Forth Valley facility is now visited regularly by four dogs belonging to members of the Stirling dog behavioural centre near Throsk, making real improvements to patients' wellbeing.

It brightens our patients’ day and makes them smile,” says Kathleen Brown, NHS Forth Valley deputy charge nurse at Trystview.

Bringing dogs to Bellsdyke is invaluable and after the visit our patients are so cheerful and more relaxed in themselves. It’s a great idea and a really good service.”

The dog walkers visit three inpatient facilities at Bellsdyke Hospital – Trystpark, Trystview and Russell Park – and come equipped with combs and grooming brushes for patients to use on the dogs, which are trained to sit and offer a paw, and there are plans to introduce small pieces of agility equipment so the dogs can be put through gentle paces.

The dogs are trained by Ann Watt, who helped set up a charity known as Paws for Autism. One of the dogs – Coco – is training to help a young person with autism.

Coco’s owner, Shona Costelloe, said bringing a dog into the life of her autistic son has been so successful she wants to share the positive outcome within the community.

My son has no road safety awareness, so if it’s not safe for Coco to do, it’s not safe for him,” Ms Costelloe explains.

If he disappears at all Caoco won’t let him out of her sight and will track him down for me. We’ve been teaching him friendship through Coco. This took about ten months to develop but if Coco doesn’t like his behaviour she will walk away from him. This tells him that if other children don’t like what he’s doing, they will walk away too.”

Of the hospital visits, Ms Costelloe said: “I think our visit gives the patients something to look forward to and they really like Mondays.

They recognise the individual dogs and build personal relationships with each animal. They talk about their own experiences of having pets and what animals they’ve had in their lives and it helps with stress.

If something has being upsetting them, we see them calm down and it can put them in a better mood.”