Hannah Vos, aged 43, from Ledbury, Herefordshire, is a Pets as Therapy (PAT) volunteer.
Every Friday morning, together with her Labrador dog, Princess Leia, she visits the Stonebow Unit, in Hereford.
Hannah said: “I am very proud to be part of the Therapy Team. Princess Leia and I registered with the charity Pets as Therapy in June 2017, and made our first exciting visit to the Stonebow Unit in October last year.
“I take Leia around the unit to meet staff, patients and their families. We often start in the café, where we enjoy a cup of tea and a chat with those patients who have come down from the wards especially to see us.
“Then we visit the wards to see those who are not well enough to come down, and if the weather is fine, we often finish up in the garden, taking it in turns to throw a ball for Leia as a reward for all her hard work.
“We aim to bring companionship, friendship and unconditional love to everyone we meet.
“Seeing Leia will often stimulate a conversation of happy memories with patients who have dementia. She can also prove a useful method of distraction with those who are agitated.
“If a patient is sad or anxious, Leia can provide comfort by lying quietly next to them while they stroke her. And sometimes, those patients who may not feel motivated to leave their beds enjoy taking her for a short walk.
“Staff members on the unit always give us a wonderful welcome and are keen to stroke and cuddle Leia too.
“For me, it is an absolute privilege to share my dog with patients and their families and to witness the joy it brings them.
“Leia and I have developed some trusted relationships during the six months we have been visiting the unit. I believe some have been able to open up and share some of their stories or fears with us, because they feel so relaxed in Leia’s company. We have also shared some special moments with patients who have speech difficulties, or speak other languages, as the therapeutic benefit of touch is universal.”
Before volunteering Hannah was a staff nurse in the Haematology Department at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.
She added: “Unfortunately, due to illness, I was unable to continue working in a job I loved. I experienced physical issues requiring lots of surgery, as well as mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It was a very difficult time, but one made slightly easier by the purchase of an 11-week-old puppy – Leia.
“I am also so grateful for all the excellent help, support and treatment I have received from the Trust. I feel so well now, and delighted that I can give a little something back to mental health services by volunteering. It has given me back a sense of identity and self-confidence. It is wonderful to be part of a team again and, best of all, I am able to take my lovely dog with me to work. She is a star.”