Gozo the North Devon PAT dog is part of hospices’ caring team

PUBLISHED: 13:55 08 October 2020

Maltese dog Gozo is a Pets As Therapy Dog. Photo: Carolyn Seager

Maltese dog Gozo is a Pets As Therapy Dog. Photo: Carolyn Seager

©2016 Carolyn Seager

Patients at North Devon Hospice and Children’s Hospice South West love visits from cute Maltese dog

The children’s faces brighten when Gozo visits Little Bridge House. Photo: Carolyn SeagerThe children’s faces brighten when Gozo visits Little Bridge House. Photo: Carolyn Seager

It’s October 2017 and I’m sitting on a bench along the Tarka Trail, my eyelids falling as they’re bathed in autumn sun. I’ve been released from hospital following an operation to remove a tumour and am awaiting prognosis. My ‘monkey mind’ dances in a sea of anxiety, so I’ve escaped into the peace of nature.

Suddenly, I feel a silent presence rest beside me and look down to see a small, white fluffy being at my feet silently gazing up at me. Intuitively, I reach down to touch the little dog who soothes me with his knowing gaze. A smiling, grey haired man approaches us.

“That’s Gozo - he knew you needed him,” he says, and I smile back, instantly calmed.

The man introduces himself as Paul Jewels and his Maltese dog as Gozo. The ice is broken and as the sunlight dwindles, Paul and I natter on. I learn that Gozo is a Pets As Therapy Dog (PAT Dog) and their story inspires.

Gozo has become a part of the team at North Devon Hospice. Photo: Carolyn SeagerGozo has become a part of the team at North Devon Hospice. Photo: Carolyn Seager

Paul, a once highly successful surveyor, had been struck down by a series of strokes in 2014. He survived but his recuperation was arduous. Unable to work, his granddaughter Jasmine, suggested he get a puppy for companionship and Gozo bounced onto the scene in 2016.

Instantly, Paul’s rehabilitation and mental health improved and he began to wonder if Gozo’s healing powers might serve others. Having done some research, Paul found the Pets As Therapy Charity, whose volunteers offer comfort to those struggling with life’s challenges. These include anxiety, PTSD, ill health and mental health issues where just stroking a PAT pet can have positive effects for many.

READ MORE: 6 reasons why you should go walking in South Devon

The children’s faces brighten when Gozo visits Little Bridge House. Photo: Carolyn SeagerThe children’s faces brighten when Gozo visits Little Bridge House. Photo: Carolyn Seager

Paul knew it was for them and having already achieved the Kennel Club Good Citizen Awards, Gozo passed the PAT Assessment Test with ease. The popular duo quickly became regular visitors at North Devon nursing homes and special needs schools.

In 2018 they became volunteers at the award-winning North Devon Hospice. Gozo is now considered a valuable member of the team. Sue Friend, the hospice’s volunteer coordinator says, “There’s a smile on everyone’s face when Paul and Gozo visit. The kind, gentle nature of Gozo is incredibly soothing not only for our patients, but also their family and friends.”

This year the hospice received the highest accolade a voluntary organisation can get, The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. Gozo is considered very much a part of that achievement, making him one of the few PAT animals ever to receive the honour.

Gozo also visits Little Bridge House at Children’s Hospice South West, where I was lucky enough to join in on a visit. As Paul carried Gozo in, the children’s faces brightened as if a light had been switched on in their hearts. I watched, mesmerised, as Gozo adjusted his energy for each child’s needs.

One child’s interaction was particularly moving. Four-year-old Stanley Beau had been diagnosed with the genetic disorder, Tay Sachs. When Gozo met Stanley he was lying motionless, attached to various pieces of equipment that were keeping him alive. Gozo nestled protectively onto Stanley’s chest, sharing his heartbeat as if adding strength to every pulse.

Stanley’s mother, Emma Murphy, remembers, “Stanley had had a really bad night but for those brief minutes with Gozo, we were lifted out of our sadness.” Stanley passed away in Emma’s arms only a few weeks later. She went on to create The Stanley Beau Foundation to help support other bereaved families but memories of Gozo’s visit still strengthen her today, “We know Stanley felt comforted by Gozo that day, we all felt it.”

Post lockdown, Paul and Gozo are needed more than ever. Visits to the hospices will be resuming and they continue to spread their own special ray of sunshine to those who need it most. As Paul says, “Gozo has not only given new meaning to my life, but to all those that cross his path. We feel it’s our purpose to create the miracle of a smile wherever we go.”

And this I can confirm they do. Oh, and talking of miracles...my tumour - it was benign.

Find out more here about Pets As Therapy and here about The Stanley Beau Foundation

COULD YOUR PET BE A PAT PET?

If you think your dog or cat might be interested in becoming a PAT animal, then here are a few things he/she will have to consider. PAT Pets come in all shapes and sizes but they must:

Be a minimum age of nine months and have been with their owner for at least six months before applying;

Be fully vaccinated, wormed and protected against fleas;

Undergo a temperament assessment to ensure they are sociable friendly, calm and gentle when stroked or handled and that they aren’t fearful of new and/or unexpected stimuli.

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