A whole new breed of hospital visitor is brightening the lives of patients – with the re-introduction of therapy dogs after the covid-19 pandemic.

The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital is working alongside charity Therapy Dogs Nationwide who are, once again, visiting patients and staff with their trained dog.

Raphie the Chihuahua, who is a temperament-assessed therapy dog, provides a much-needed boost for patients, particularly those who are in hospital for a prolonged period of time, with some patients spending six to nine months on the spinal cord injury rehabilitation ward.

Mary O’Toole has been a patient on Gladstone Ward, the spinal injury rehabilitation ward on the Midland Centre for Spinal Injuries (MCSI), for a number of months.

She said: “Since stroking Raphie, I’ve noticed my hands have loosened up. It makes my day when Raphie visits the ward, and I love spending time with him.

“I love dogs and have two Jack Russell’s at home that I miss dearly. Having a visit from Raphie is a lovely distraction.”

Raphie’s owner, Jo Costa, who works with Therapy Dogs Nationwide, is more than happy to offer Raphie’s services as a therapy dog.

She said: “Raphie’s a really wonderful therapy dog because he loves being around people. He laps up all the attention he gets. Both patients and staff adore her, which is lovely to see.

“Being a Therapy Dogs Nationwide dog, Raphie had to pass her temperament test, before becoming a therapy dog.

“I love seeing the comfort he brings to patients, and always find it really satisfying to see the difference a visit from a dog can make to people in hospital.”

Jo has also been a patient at RJAH. She added: “The treatment and care I’ve received at RJAH over the years have been second to none – I love that I can come here as a Therapy Dog Volunteer and give something back.

“RJAH doesn’t have the atmosphere of an average hospital, you walk in, and it feels like a breath of fresh air.”

Kate Betts, Rehabilitation Technician, was the driving force behind introducing four-legged friends as therapy back in 2020, as well as re-introducing them to the Oswestry-based hospital.

She said: “I would like to say thank you to Jo and Raphie, who are making such a big difference to our patients physical and mental health.

“I have witnessed the positive effects of spending time with a therapy dog has on our patients. Obviously when covid-19 hit, the therapy dog visits had to stop and it’s just wonderful to see them back in the hospital having such a positive effect on our patients and staff.”

Pictured: Patient Mary O’Toole with Raphie the Chihuahua, Jo Costa, Therapy Dogs Nationwide Volunteer; and Kate Betts, Rehabilitation Technician.