Ruby and Bertie report for duty in their new 'Tap to Donate' vests to raise money for Nottingham Hospitals Charity. Photo credit: Dale Buckland

We’ve all experienced a dogs ability to lift moods, provide comfort and show understanding despite an inability to communicate with their human friends, but just how much of an impact have our canine companions had on our city and surrounding areas?

Nottingham’s favourite therapy pooches have been off the radar for many of their fans since the first lockdown hit back in March, but the regular Queens Medical Centre (QMC) visitors aren’t ready to hand in their notices just yet.

Staff and patients at the hospital have never needed support from the trio more though, since hospital admissions rise and pressure increases.

Dale, owner of Pooches charity, and the dogs themselves, said: “I get messages from people we used to visit and they’re on their knees, but going in is not a risk I’m willing to take”.

Ruby, Bertie and Chewie (Chewbacca) have been a part of the Pooches charity after being raised by their owner, and NHS worker, Dale Buckland.

All three dogs pictured together, left to right: Bertie, Ruby and Chewie. Photo credit: Dale Buckland

As many people have been in and out of the doors of QMC over the past eight years, since Pooches first began, it’s likely that plenty of Nottinghamshire locals have encountered the therapy dogs.

Dale Buckland started the charity as he works on the Perinatal Mothers and Baby Psychiatric Unit and patients requested that his dogs would visit them when the unit used to based at QMC.

He recalled one memory of a specific patient where the dogs followed her journey through the hospital over the course of the year through various wards as her condition deteriorated until she passed.

Dale said: “One of her final requests was that the dogs would go to the funeral service, so that’s exactly what we did… A few weeks later I was surprised to see the crematorium actually allowed us in”.

This experience for Dale really hit home as to home important his dogs are to so many other people across the county as he explained “so many people are confined to a bed, it’s just nice that they have someone to talk to that’s not a doctor or a nurse”.

Before Covid-19 imposed strict visiting rules, the trio visited the hospital three times a week thanks to the support of Nottingham Hospitals charity.

With no visits this year, the dogs have been unable to raise any money for the charity, as their visits and any fund-raising events, hosted by the charity, have come to a halt.

Dale stressed how without Nottingham Hospitals Charity, many of the visits wouldn’t have been able to happen.

The dogs aren’t giving up their duties just yet though, as they look forward to a weakening in restrictions to get them back to work.

They have already had requests to visit the Children’s Cancer Unit at City Hospital to provide support to youngsters facing chemo and radiotherapy, as well as the dementia unit.

Ruby hasn’t stopped working throughout lockdown keeping people educated on staying safe through the pandemic. Photo credit: Dale Buckland

The trio’s impact was recognised by the Care quality Commission in a report where they visited patients who encountered the pooches and stated: “We saw that patients enjoyed this and were smiling as the visit took place… These activities have a positive effect on patient’s well-being.” (2019)

The pooches have even received some ‘Tap to Donate’ jackets which they look forward to using when they’re able to visit the wards, their favourite staff members and patients again.

Dale explained how the jackets contain a small card reading device that automatically takes £5 as a way for Pooches to give back to Nottingham’s Hospital Charity, who sourced the jackets.

The jackets are still in the developmental stage, according to Dale, but are in the hands of Nottingham Hospitals Charity to be used only at fundraising events and throughout the hospital.

Ruby, 7, and Chewie, 7, are both Briards, a renowned breed for their loyalty as the official dogs through the first World War, which nearly wiped out the breed.

Bertie, 2, is the youngest of the group and is a Portuguese sheepdog, but despite his difference, he continues to have the same positive impact on everyone that comes into his contact.

Research in recent years has highlighted the impact of therapy dogs all over the world, valuing just how important these pooches are to improving both physical and mental wellbeing.

The University of Lincoln and Dogs for Good estimated that £2.4bn a year could be saved by the NHS due to improved mental wellbeing in patients as a result of visits from therapy dogs in hospitals.

Dale Buckland gave a message to NHS staff on behalf of the three loyal pooches which said: “We’re sorry we haven’t been with you during these exceptional times… One day, in the not too distant future, we hope to be with you again when we will have such. huge hug for you all.”