Page last updated at 12:40 GMT, Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Doctor dog wins pet therapy prize

Simba the dog
Simba, a Leonberger, is a volunteer dog with Pets As Therapists

A North Yorkshire dog who gives cuddles to people in need has won a national charity competition.

Simba, a Leonberger, lives with owner Ann Burrell in Harrogate and is a PAT dog for charity Pets As Therapists.

He goes into care homes and helps children with dog phobias and won PAT's dog of the year prize for his friendly nature and ability to calm people.

There are currently 114,000 people benefitting from PAT dog and cat therapy every week in the UK.

The pets, who are thoroughly assessed, wormed and vaccinated go through a stringent process to check the therapy is also enjoyable for them. All breeds are used except those on the dangerous dog register.

'Soulful eyes'

The animals provide comfort and rehabilitative therapy by allowing themselves to be petted and by sitting patiently while people talk to them.

According to the charity, there are more than 6,000 establishments using PAT pets, including hospitals, respite homes, special needs schools and rehabilitation centres.

Simba the dog
Simba with Bessy McGaig, 83, at Larchfield Manor residential home

Owner and volunteer Ann Burrell said: "Simba works with people in residential homes such as Larchfield in Harrogate and has been helping a child with an extreme and debilitating dog phobia.

"The mother of the child told me that before working with Simba, her daughter thought it a better option to run into the road with the cars than to meet a dog.

"Simba was also described by one lady he worked with as 'wearing his soul in his eyes' because he's such a lovely dog."

Maureen Hennis, chief executive of PAT said: "We've had a wonderful response from healthcare professionals, especially when we work with people who are clinically depressed.

"The dogs can get through a barrier where human contact fails.

"A dog doesn't care if the words don't come out in the right order."



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