One Openreach man and his dog
An Openreach engineer and his four-legged friend have been putting their spare time to good use helping people with mental health issues and learning disabilities in Leeds.
Steve Goodson, from Gildersome in South Leeds, and Aspin, his Pyrenean Mountain Dog, have been volunteering as part of a pet therapy programme to aid the recovery of people with acute mental health needs at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
Steve said: “My family has had experience of dementia so I was keen to get involved and help out in my spare time. I signed up as a volunteer with the ‘Pets As Therapy’ charity four years ago and have enjoyed every minute of it.
“Aspin really is a perfect therapy dog as she’s so calm and well-behaved. She lies still even for people who have difficulty with co-ordination or are visually impaired. She is totally unflappable.
“Some of the people we meet don’t react to Aspin, but most do and usually have a big smile on their face and tell me about pets they’ve had in the past. If you can make someone with dementia happier, it’s magical.
Occupational Therapists Claire Simpson and Hannah Gregg from Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, introduced animal therapy after reading about the potential health benefits.
Claire said: “As occupational therapists our role includes assessing our service user’s functional ability and looking at ways of improving and enhancing their experience on the wards whilst they undergo medical treatment. After reading about the benefits visits from animals could have it was something we really wanted to try out.”
Claire invited Steve and Aspin to come along to the Older People’s Inpatient Services at The Mount in Leeds. The Mount helps people with acute mental health needs including dementia, where assessment, treatment and rehabilitation are provided 24-hours per day in a hospital setting.
Claire said: “One of the most rewarding moments for me was when a gentleman with severe dementia, who I had never seen speak or smile, motioned for Aspin to go over to him with his hand. His face broke into a huge grin and when I asked him if he had ever owned a dog he clearly replied ‘yes’.
“To some that would seem a small interaction, but to see the joy he experienced within that moment was worth all of the hard work it took to get the visits off the ground.”
Steve manages to fit his volunteering around working full time. Using his rostered week off and volunteering days when working late shift as a diagnostic engineer, he manages to visit two nursing homes and a hospital every month.
“My manager is hugely supportive of my volunteering and accommodates it as much as possible. I also get three paid days off within work time to use for volunteering every year which is great. Being able to give something back to my local community and seeing the effect Aspin has on people is as rewarding to me as it is to them.
Last year across the UK more than 11,000 Openreach employees undertook around 21,000 volunteering activities benefitting thousands of local communities, including many in Yorkshire and the Humber.