Pet Pals Therapy has been running since 2010 when owner, Beck Wigmore, covered a Terry’s Ark, mobile farm visit for her parents who were unable to attend that day. The visit was to a local nursing home and the weather was very unkind. The visit ended up with the smaller animals being brought inside to sit on people’s laps. After witnessing how much the residents of the home enjoyed this experience Beck started to look into the prospect of bringing these animals to see the residents on a regular basis and so, Pet Pals Therapy began.
It started small, using just rabbits and guinea pigs but it soon started to grow. With her base being at the family farm, the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, Beck has access to a wide variety of different and tame, farm animals and she soon realised that her clients were keen to have interaction with lots of them. A large number of the elderly have had access to farms and farm animals in their childhood and seeing these animals again recalls happy memories which makes everyone in the room start talking about their past. For those who had not had access to animals, many were getting to experience something new.
Beck says; “It is quite incredible to be told by someone who is 90 that they have never bottle fed a lamb or even touched a chicken and now it is something that they are getting to experience, sitting in their chair in a care home. To see their joy and be part of creating a new happy memory for someone late in life is very rewarding. Some of the most amazing feedback we get is from the relatives of EMI residents who find that a Pet Pals Therapy visit is the one thing their family member can remember and they chat to them about the different animals they have seen each month. Many relatives now try to co-ordinate with our monthly visit, bringing children and grand-children, so all the generations can experience it together”. Pam, a relative of a service user says “Pet Pals Therapy visits the home my mum is in, she really looks forward to seeing the different animals each month and it gives us something to talk about when I visit."
Over time Beck experimented with what worked and what didn’t. She was amazed to find how something as small as a chick and the simple act of placing it on someone’s hand could deliver such an overwhelming amount of joy to that person. Feedback from staff is full of stories of service users who don’t normally come out of their rooms, coming out to see the animals and of those who never talk, or smile, sitting there with a huge grin, chatting away either to the animal on their lap or to other residents and staff. Vicky Sharman, Manager at St Margaret’s nursing home in Eastbourne says:
“Pet Pals Therapy brings the outside world to people who can’t access it themselves anymore. The animals are the one thing that makes everybody smile and the bonus of Pet Pals Therapy is that the staff know how to interact with our service users”
Pet Pals Therapy has a commitment to its participants that they won’t see the same animal two months in row (except for lambs, as everybody wants to see lambs at lambing time!) Beck says “it’s very important that the participants in the programme don’t get bored seeing the same pet all the time, so I have developed the programme to include both visual stimulation and tactile sessions, this ensures that those participants who don’t necessarily want to touch the animals can also enjoy our visits. You will be amazed how much someone with limited physical abilities can get from just watching animals, even if the animal is asleep, it can still trigger a feeling of well- being and happiness in the person watching it.”
Commitment to the family farm sees Beck now shepherding full time with her Dad at the Sheep Centre but she has a team of trained Animal Stewards who facilitate the Pet Pals Therapy programme. Hiley, a long term participant in the Pet Pals Therapy programme says “Please keep coming because I enjoy seeing the animals so much, as well as the staff who are all lovely.”