Jenny Cornish met Sheila Hall and her dog Biffo, who regularly visit The Beeches children’s home with the charity Pets As Therapy, to talk about the difference they can make to lives.
An unusual volunteer has been helping out in a children’s home in Peterborough – an eight-stone bull mastiff called Biffo.
Biffo and his owner, Sheila Hall, have been visiting The Beeches children’s home as part of the Pets As Therapy charity.
The children can pet Biffo, talk to him and groom him – a form of therapy which can help them relax.
Sheila, 42, an HR systems manager from Stilton, says Biffo loves the attention too. “We go in for a couple of hours and they make a fuss of him and groom him,” she said.
“It does make a huge difference to the children. Pets are a great leveller. He loves it and they l ove it.
“I really enjoy it – he gets a lot out of it and so do I. It’s really rewarding to see the difference you can make.
“Some of the children have had to leave animals at home so they really miss them. Sometimes if one of them is having a tantrum when we arrive, it totally calms the situation down when we come in.”
There are six children at the home at the moment, aged from 10 to 18, all with learning disabilities.
Sheila and Biffo go to the home once every week or two and spend a couple of hours there with the children.
Denise Grayston, manager of The Beeches, said: “The children all love it when Biffo visits. It’s a real event. ‘‘They all look forward to him coming.
“Sometimes our children are quite excitable but when Biffo’s here it really helps to relax them.
‘‘It’s a nice atmosphere having an animal in the house, which is something we can’t do all the time. “He’s a huge dog but he’s so calm and really placid and easy-going. He doesn’t mind how many times the children stroke him or pat him.”
Denise says this is the first time the home has been involved with Pets As Therapy and it has been a great success.
“We’d been thinking about it for quite a while and then some of the children saw the Pets As Therapy stand at the East of England Show and they picked up an application form, and it didn’t take long after that,” she said.
“During the time that Biffo and Sheila are here, it’s very much a fun time and the children are very relaxed.” Sheila got involved with the Pets As Therapy charity about a year ago.
“My dog is so big and laid back, I thought if there was something I could do with him it would be great,” she said. “A colleague at work does Pets As Therapy and I thought I would be interested in doing it with my dog.
‘‘It’s putting something back into the community.”
Biffo went through an assessment to see if he was suitable – but passed with flying colours as he is so chilled out.
Sheila started off by going into a nursing home where many of the residents were bed-ridden, but Biffo was big enough that they could still reach him to pet him.
Then a new volunteer started working at the nursing home, so Sheila and Biffo moved on to The Beeches.
She says it’s a great thing to do with your pet. “The dogs have to have an extremely good temperament – they have to pass an assessment,” she said.
“As long as they’re good with people and they don’t mind being groomed and handled, they’re fine.
“We re-homed Biffo from some friends. He used to be a show dog but he hated that.
“He’s certainly found his niche in life now.
“He lies there on his back with all four feet in the air.
‘‘They can pull his ears and he just loves all the attention that he gets from them.”
She plans to carry on volunteering with Biffo as long as she can – and would probably do the same with another dog in the future. “Now I’ve got involved with the charity I really enjoy it,” said Sheila.
More about Pets As Therapy online: www.petsastherapy.org