Latest News 24 April 2019 | Counties Manukau Health is offering dog therapy visits to intensive care patients at Middlemore Hospital.

On alternate Thursdays, you will find either “Beau” (Shih Tzu Poodle mix)  or “Truffle” (Chow Chow, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Mastiff mix), with their owners Helen Lamb and Jennifer Spencer in tow, visit intensive care patients who are clinically able and happy to receive such a visit.

Helen and Jennifer are members of Canine Friends Pet Therapy, an organisation with a network of people around the country who share their friendly, well-behaved pet dogs with patients in rest homes and hospitals.

The initiative began at Middlemore Hospital earlier this month following nine months of preparation after staff from within the Critical Care Complex (CCC) heard glowing feedback about the use of pet therapy.

“We looked into the research, which was showing a reduction in patient’s pain, anxiety and fatigue with the use of animal assisted therapy, so we decided to explore if this was something we could do in our unit,” says CCC Quality Coordinator and nurse, Catherine Hocking.

The intensive care team worked closely with Infection Control to make sure the visits would be safe for patients.

The animals need to be clean and well-groomed, (including bathed at least once a month), in good health with up-to-date with immunisations and have full and accurate veterinary records. They also need to be treated for fleas and worms, have no skin infections and have been free of diarrhoea for two weeks.

Dog visits are not appropriate for certain patients with compromised immunity, including patients with burns, as these patients are high risk for infections, Ms Hocking explains.

If necessary, plastic sheets are put on the patient’s bed so the dogs can be reached by the patient for pats and interaction.  Typically, a dog will stay at the unit for approximately an hour, depending on how many patients have requested a visit.  

Beau’s owner, Helen Lamb has been with Canine Friends Pet Therapy for about three years and originally became involved with the organisation because she wanted to do volunteer work that wouldn’t require her to spend time away from Beau. 

To be accepted to the programme for general hospital visits, the Canine Friends Pet Therapy Assessor for the Auckland Region, Rachel Butler, met Beau and Truffle (and owners) at Middlemore Hospital to assess their suitability to cope with the hospital’s busy and intensive environment.  

Middlemore is the first hospital Beau and Ms Lamb have visited and says the patients she has visited so far have appreciated meeting Beau. 

Jennifer Spencer, who adopted Truffle three years ago, says Truffle (who, at one time, was in the Henderson Dog Shelter and facing euthanasia) “flew through” her temperament test.  

“It is wonderful to share Truffle’s special talents with Middlemore’s ICU patients, their Whaanau and the amazing staff in the unit.  Her personality wins over everyone who meets her.”

Staff have enjoyed the visits as much as patients, Ms Hocking says, noting there is always a lot of excitement and photo taking on visit days. 

“We even find visiting staff making a beeline for the dogs, crouching down for pats and cuddles and  commenting on how the dogs boost morale.”

Issued by:   Counties Manukau Health Communications
Media Line:  09 250 9857   Email:

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