There is a new member to the team at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, but this is no ordinary staff member, he’s furry, has big floppy ears and will do anything for his favourite treat. Meet St Luke’s latest recruit, Comet the hospice dog.
Comet was bred to be a Hearing Dog for Deaf People but failed to make the grade because he has a condition called Cerebellar Hypoplasia. This has made him mildly uncoordinated and quieter than the average ‘teenage’ Labrador.
St Luke’s are no stranger to animals having previously homed a resident cat called Ollie, who was a source of both entertainment and great comfort to many of our patients. When Ollie passed away he was sorely missed by patients and staff alike, so the search for a new suitable pet began.
When vet and animal behaviourist Caroline Bower of The Veterinary Hospital Group, Plymouth, heard about Comet through her husband John, who is a trustee of the Hearings Dogs Charity, she thought that he could be an ideal Hospice dog due to his laid back character and his puppy education with the Hearing Dog trainers.
Caroline explains: “I had previously cared for Ollie the hospice cat and know what a massive difference animals can make to the patients in a hospice. It may seem strange to have an animal in a clinical environment, but it really is so therapeutic for the patients and to see the joy and comfort an animal can bring is truly amazing.
"The great thing is that the hospice can see the benefits of animals on the wards and have always allowed patients’ loved pets in for a visit. Cats and dogs are always regular visitors and that’s one of the reasons why the hospice is such a special place”.
Comet is regularly taken around the In Patient Unit at Turnchapel by hospice volunteers so that he can spend time with the patients. Sometimes visitors will ask to take Comet on to the ward to spend time with their relative.
On the wards, patients often start reminiscing about dogs that they have owned and Comet becomes quite a talking point. He seems to enjoy the lime light and will sit patiently whilst people talk about him.
When not on duty at the hospice, Comet lives with Senior Receptionist at St Luke’s, Jenny Nicol who comments on what a delight it is to see his interaction with patients and visitors: “He will offer his paw in return for a biscuit and loves to be petted. Of course being a Labrador he will do anything for a treat. Patients’ visitors sometimes ask if they may take Comet for a walk outside. This can give them time out and so be very therapeutic for them. Comet always loves a walk, especially on Jennycliff.”
Comet is now 18 months old and maturing nicely. He is still incredibly laid back, loves food, people and other dogs and enjoys working in the hospice.
Jenny adds: “There has always been a pet at St Luke's, sometimes a cat and sometimes a dog, they are very much core to our care. There are a lot of perceptions of what a hospice environment is like, of course there are sad times but Comet is a fine example of some of reasons why it can also be such a special and happy place to be.”