A DOG which brings love, laughter and happiness to hundreds of youngsters at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital has received free healthcare at a St Helens-based vets.

White Cross Vets, at Millfields Court, Eccleston has given yellow labrador Holly free membership on its Complete Wellness Plan, which includes a host of benefits.

Three-year-old Holly became certified 18 months ago by charity Pets As Therapy (PAT) which means she can work as a PAT dog. She now spends approximately three, half days a week, along with her handler Barry Lea, meeting patients at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.

This latest initiative follows White Cross Vets donating almost £3,000 to Alder Hey Children’s Charity, which raises vital funds for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, to fund fish tank aquaponics.

The money was collected when its practices in West Derby, Gateacre, St Helens and Widnes, donated £1 for every pet vaccinated over a four-month period.

Michelle Weston, from White Cross Vets in St Helens, said: “We’ve established a close relationship with both Alder Hey Children’s Charity and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, raising money through vaccinations and visiting the hospital numerous times to talk to children about our work in veterinary care. It was during one such visit that we met Holly and Barry and saw the amazing work they do and how much joy Holly brings to the children.

“Our team were hugely impressed, so we immediately offered Holly free membership of our Complete Wellness Plan which provides health-checks, veterinary care and preventative treatment on an ongoing basis. Holly does a fantastic job so it’s great to be able to offer her the best level of care possible.”

Barry, who lives in Eccleston, said: “Until a few years ago I was living and working in Hong Kong and my wife got involved with a local dog shelter, which in turn introduced us to the world of therapy dogs. These dogs have been shown to help patients in many ways including lowering blood pressure, releasing calming endorphins, increasing mental stimulation, lifting spirits and producing an automatic relaxation response through petting which is believed to reduce the amount of medication needed by some people.

“Our other dog Rosie sadly died last year at the age of 16 and had worked as a therapy dog for 10 years. Holly lived with us for the last couple of years of Rosie’s life and adopted many of her calm characteristics, which are vitally important for therapy dogs.

“Once we finished training Holly, we approached Alder Hey Children’s Hospital because we’ve always admired their work and they were keen to have a therapy dog, which are in short supply in the North West. We now visit most of the wards on a regular basis and the children, their parents and staff all love seeing, cuddling and playing with Holly. She relieves anxious situations and always creates a fun and calming atmosphere.

“We also work with several children each week who have had bad experiences with dogs, or suffer with cynophobia, which is a fear of dogs, to help them overcome their anxieties. Plus, we participate in many of the hospital’s special events which often involve Holly pulling Santa’s sleigh at Christmas or dressing up as an Easter bunny, which always puts a smile on everyone’s face.”

Barry added: “However, therapy dogs often soak up everything going on around them, so it’s important that Holly has plenty of downtime and doesn’t become too absorbed in her work for her general wellbeing. It’s also great to have the support of White Cross Vets to ensure Holly remains fit and healthy, in order to be able to work to the best of her ability, which gives us fantastic peace of mind.”

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital cares for over 275,000 children, young people and their families treating everything from common illnesses to highly complex and specialist conditions. It also leads research into children’s medicines, infection, inflammation and oncology.

Anyone interested in having their dog assessed for PAT working, supporting the PAT charity, or wanting further information about the organisation’s work, should visit petsastherapy.org or for information about White Cross Vets visit whitecrossvets.co.uk