Trainee buddy dog Mason provides canine comfort to NHS workers

Staff in Royal Bolton Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit were recently treated to a surprise visitor! Mason, a yellow Labrador cross golden retriever from Guide Dogs, came along to offer emotional support to the team after a hard shift.

Alongside her busy role at the hospital, Intensive Care Consultant Sarah Thornton fosters for Guide Dogs in her free time. She and her family are currently looking after Mason, a buddy dog in training.

After stressful and difficult shifts during the pandemic, Sarah has found coming home to Mason a real comfort. Her family all enjoy having Mason around and have been able to help look after him whilst she is at work.

Mason is such a gentle dog, but he wasn’t suitable as a guide dog due to a lack of confidence when making certain decisions. He’s therefore taking a slightly different career path and will make a wonderful buddy dog for a child with a vision impairment.

Buddy dogs are not a mobility aid but provide essential support in building confidence, leading to better relationships with others and greater wellbeing. Children with a vision impairment get to enjoy the benefits of having a well-behaved dog, and for some who can lack confidence, having a buddy dog by their side helps them to thrive. They also gain a sense of independence by taking responsibility for the care of the dog, completing activities like grooming and feeding with the help of their family.

Buddy dogs help to transform a child’s life. Parents report seeing remarkable changes in their children’s confidence and behaviour. Children who have previously been shy cannot wait to get out of the house with a buddy dog by their side.
Verity De Winton, Support Dog Lead at Guide Dogs

After seeking the relevant permissions, Sarah took Mason into the hospital so that staff could have a much-needed cuddle with Mason.

Staff morale on the critical care wards has been hit hard by Covid. Lots of people have died leaving a big psychological impact on staff well-being. To be able to take Mason in has been invaluable, it’s what the staff really needed.
Sarah Thornton, Intensive Care Consultant and Fosterer

Colleague Neal Ashurstan, operating department practitioner on the unit, said: “I had the best day at work! Thank you so much to Sarah for bringing Mason along.”

Once restrictions are lifted later in the year, Mason will be able to progress on his journey to becoming a buddy dog and will be matched to a child with a vision impairment. In the meantime, he is making a significant difference to the happiness of many people. We’re very proud to see our dogs doing so much more than the job they were trained for!

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