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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Dog is GP's and patients' best friend

Dr Antony Natt tells us how joining the Pets As Therapy scheme revived his morale

he new millennium found me tired and demoralised. Over the preceding year, my fruitless attempts to find a partner contradicted the politicians' vehement denials of a recruitment crisis. Some 4,000 patients required continuing medical services and even locums were hard to come by. My concentration wavered during consultations and the fear of making mistakes became pervasive. There was little enjoyment in the work.

How a dog helped me cope

My wife realised a difficult situation required a drastic solution. After many years of stubborn resistance she agreed we should have a dog. We chose Tilly (also known as Chantilly Golden Smiles) from a local breeder and I began to regain my sense of perspective as I played with this little bundle of fluff.

At dog socialisation classes I became aware of Pets As Therapy (PAT). My wife visited Amsterdam and on her return commented that Dutch pets often accompanied their owners to work. An idea crossed my mind ­ why not take Tilly to work with me as a PAT dog?

Tilly was proving to be calm, gentle and obedient and easily passed her temperament test for PAT qualification. With proof of vaccinations she was registered and insured.

Every Tuesday, after a healthy early-morning walk, Tilly accompanies me to work. A poster is placed in reception informing patients of her presence (to date no patient has requested her removal). Indeed, many patients make Tuesday appointments because she is there. Suitably groomed, she greets each patient by wagging her tail and allowing herself to be stroked, but never licks or jumps up.

Having thus relaxed the patient, she returns to her mat behind my chair. Colleagues might feel this encroaches on consultation time but the resultant atmosphere is more conducive to effective consultation.

Tilly's surgery skills

Tilly has also proved herself a skilful 'dognostician'. Her contributions include:

la depressed elderly patient who on seeing Tilly burst into tears as she connected her low mood with the death of her pet some months before

lan effective chaperone: Tilly calms irritable patients and in at least one case I believe her presence deterred more aggressive behaviour

lduring and after stressful consultations, stroking Tilly helps me relax.

She is particularly popular with children, who, however reluctant, will co-operate with examination in her presence. Developmental assessment clinics are particularly enjoyable.

After surgery we visit the community hospital where she has a special rapport with patients. She also accompanies me to residential and nursing homes, the hospice and the district hospital. Both patients and staff seem to enjoy her visits. I return home before afternoon surgery. The PAT organisation stresses that PAT dogs should not be overtired.

Beating the recruitment blues

Much has changed in the two-and-a-half years since Tilly arrived. I have become more relaxed and clinical practice has become enjoyable once more.

Despite the intensifying recruitment crisis, I have found a full-time partner. And for me every cloud has a silver lining. After all, no recruitment crisis, no dog!

Further information

Pets As Therapy,

17 Ambrook Road, Reading, Berkshire RG2 8SL

Telephone: 0118 9212467

www.petsastherapy.org

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