Tell us about Rolo and how he came into your life.
Rolo is an RSPCA rescue. He’s a crossbreed – a springer spaniel X poodle or sproodle or springerpoo. He was rescued from a puppy farm, one of thirty dogs – three litters and their mums. Rolo would certainly have died had it not been for the RSPCA as he had E.Coli food poisoning and it was touch and go whether or not he would survive. Sadly, two of his siblings had already died before the RSPCA arrived. All the dogs and pups went off for rehoming, apart from Rolo, who was kept at the vets for a week. After round-the-clock care, he was well enough to spend Christmas with one of the nurses and we collected him from my RSPCA contact on 2 January 2014.
What made you put Rolo forward to become a therapy dog and what training was involved?
I have always loved dogs and been interested in how dogs help humans; when I was 12, I did a project about guide dogs, which I think I still have somewhere. Even before we had a dog (Rolo is the first dog of our own), I wanted to be a Pets as Therapy volunteer, as I know the joy and comfort dogs and many other animals can bring to humans.
Rolo went to puppy classes and then on to more general training – which I believe every dog should do – actually, it’s just as much for the owners as their dogs (if not more)! When Rolo was around a year old, I applied to Pets as Therapy and got him assessed. No specific training was needed.
What is involved when Rolo visit patients?
Each week we visit Southend Hospital. We start off in the Children’s Ward – Rolo is the first and only dog allowed in there, following the trial session he did two years ago. We then visit the Stroke Ward and then Oncology ward. Rolo interacts with patients depending on their needs and how they are – he even helps with rehabilitation. Patients enjoy stroking him, some like to give him treats in return for them asking him to do something. Sometimes he sits on my lap and puts his paws on a pillow or blanket, resting his head near to or on the patient. Occasionally, he lies on the bed with the patient. It’s important to note that it is not just patients that Rolo gives therapy to, but also staff and visitors. Rolo knows many of the staff, having worked at the hospital for three-and-a-half years, and as Southend is a University Teaching Hospital, there are always new people to meet. The staff really appreciate Rolo’s visits, too.
Rolo also visits a care home and was a Read2Dogs visitor at a local primary school for a year.
Rolo really loves to meet people – of all ages – whether they are new to him or people he has met lots of times.
What does Rolo like to do when he is not being a therapy dog?
Apart from meeting people, Rolo also loves to meet and get to know other dogs and play ‘chase’ with them, then perhaps share some places to have a good sniff. Rolo enjoys retrieving, especially tennis balls. He is rather a ball connoisseur – he will return a proper tennis ball many times, but if it is not a proper tennis ball or is damaged (injured), he will take it away and try to destroy it. He also loves to dig on the beach and the mud and swim if it involves retrieving something. Rolo enjoys the variety in his life and knows how to behave, depending where he is – he’s a real professional – very calm when at work, but full of fun when out on a walk or in the garden. People often comment on how calm he is at the hospital, ever since he has been working there at 18-months-old; conversely many people have commented: “You’ve got a lively one!” when on a free run.
If someone was interested in putting their dog forward to work as a therapy dog, what advice would you give them?
I would suggest you contact Pets as Therapy and ask them to email the assessment details and other requirements. There is no issue with regard to the size or type of dog, something I have found some people have a misconception about, but they mustn’t be too old, as it can be very tiring for them. They can start at around one-year-old. The main things are that your dog is not worried about noises, sudden or otherwise, can walk to heel with a normal collar and lead and does not jump up or ‘paw’ unless asked. They also need to be able to wait patiently, as sometimes you can be talking for some time with an individual or group of people. All skills (apart from noise sensitivity), I believe every dog should have following basic training. Naturally, they must be relaxed and enjoy being around people and being touched. If there are any issues during the assessment, these can often be worked on and then your dog can be reassessed.
You can follow Rolo’s adventures and see all of the good work he does on Facebook.
You can also watch Rolo on Channel 5's The Dog Rescuers with Alan Davis