A THERAPY dog is helping patients at the Priory Hospital in Woking dealing with problems including relationship difficulties, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and addictions.

Bilbo, a one-year-old cockapoo, is being brought in by his owner,  Samantha Hickey, the addiction treatment programme manager at the Knaphill facility.

Samantha said: “Bilbo is joy personified and the impact he has on both staff and patients is so lovely to see.

“For patients, Bilbo offers love, comfort and endless cuddles and similarly is a source of comfort and relief for staff who work in a rewarding, but, at times, emotionally difficult, job.

“Seeing him plodding up and down the halls, tail wagging and tongue out, the happiness for all who lay eyes on him is so rewarding.”

The 35-bed hospital has a long history of animal-assisted therapy and offers equine-assisted treatments as part of its 28-day addiction recovery programme.

A therapy dog needs to be calm and react well to people’s tears, sudden noises and movements, which the Priory staff say Bilbo has in abundance.

Samantha said: “Bilbo’s mix of breeds makes him very easy to train and it’s clear to see that he is able to ‘read’ human emotions and react accordingly.

“A cockapoo’s fur is hypoallergenic which also makes them the perfect pet to come into regular contact with patients and their families. He’s not a large dog so doesn’t intimidate clients and everyone warms to him very quickly.”

The theory behind the therapy is that animals direct patients’ attention towards another living being and away from his or her own difficulties, allowing them to distance themselves from their distress and then begin talking about their issues and consider ways forward.

Therapy dogs can work as a great ice breaker in one-to-one and group sessions by making patients feel more at ease, as well as lifting the spirits of patients on ward visits. Petting or stroking a dog can help with high blood pressure and stress levels.

Pete Watt, the hospital director said: “Bilbo has bundles of personality and positivity that’s hard to ignore.

“The impact he has had on site is tangible. I get a hard time from both staff and patients when he is on his well-earned annual leave.

“He can help to calm clients when their anxiety levels are rising, bring comfort and familiarity to clients who are missing their own dogs, and provide a really sympathetic and non-judgemental ear for both staff and clients when out for a walk.”

When he’s not in therapy sessions, Bilbo is taken for walks by patients around the grounds, organised by a healthcare assistant, which is proving particularly important for those who have a dog at home and are missing them.

A patient said: “Bilbo helps me because I miss my dogs and it comforts me to spend time with him.

“A dog is an important part of life; no matter who you are and how you are feeling, they show you unconditional love.

“It is especially helpful to have Bilbo here because it takes away from the feeling of being in a hospital and being able to do something as normal as walking a dog is so important.

“Bilbo doesn't judge me or label me as mentally unstable, we can just have fun."