THEY are well-known for bringing joys and smiles to countless children who visit Blackpool.
And the seaside favourites, donkeys, are helping light up the lives of poorly patients at Trinity and Brian House Hospices.
Pet therapy is not new, but the Bispham-based charity went a step further than traditional ‘pat’ dogs and brought in house-trained donkeys Molly and Rusty as very special guests.
The pair have proved so popular, they have made several visits to the hospice, where they even spend time in patients’ rooms.
Research has shown stroking an animal can be calming – reducing blood pressure and releasing endorphins, the chemicals which can suppress the response to pain.
Dr Susan Salt, Trinity’s medical director, introduced donkey therapy to Trinity after hearing about its use in a home for dementia patients.
“I thought the children might enjoy meeting them, because many have to rely on non-verbal communication, but when the donkeys toured the adult in-patient unit and day therapy unit they proved a big hit there too.
“Pet therapy is difficult to test scientifically, but there are good things going on when a patient meets an animal.
“Some miss the companionship of a pet when illness strikes or the feeling of being needed. Some people talk to animals when they might not feel like talking to a human.”
Trinity has welcomed creatures great and small, including police horses (too big to tour the wards, but they made it to the hospice gardens), mini-beasts from Blackpool Zoo, a pygmy hedgehog and many family pets who visit patients – from cats to cockatoos.
Pip the “pat dog” is a regular at Brian House children’s hospice.
Play worker Sue Pelling said: “Pip brings a lot of joy. Many of our children have multiple complex needs and their families cannot have a pet at home because of all the demands of caring for a child with a life-limiting illness.
“The children stroke Pip as he sits on their bed, or play with him on the floor.
“All the animals are popular, but Florence the hedgehog was a source of endless fascination. The donkeys are special too.
“One child who finds it hard to interact actually reached out to stroke Rusty. It was an emotional moment.”
Molly and Rusty come from the Manchester Donkey Sanctuary, which incorporates the Elisabeth Svendson Trust for Children and Donkeys and specialises in therapy for disabled youngsters. A group from Brian House travelled to the sanctuary last week to see the donkeys in their home environment.
Dr Salt added: “Sometimes you don’t need scientific proof about the benefit of a therapy; simple observation is enough.
“The sight of a patient being greeted by their dog after a separation can be wonderful, and I have seen very ill patients get up and go into the corridor to meet the donkeys.
“Animals bring tremendous comfort to someone feeling very poorly or anxious.”