Therapy dog awarded ‘Animal of the Year’ for supporting frontline NHS staff

·3-min read
Jasper the cockapoo was awarded the title ‘Animal of the Year’ in 2021 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Jasper the cockapoo was awarded the title ‘Animal of the Year’ in 2021 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

A cockapoo named Jasper has been awarded the title “Animal of the Year” by an animal welfare charity for his work in supporting frontline NHS staff through the pandemic.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) named Jasper as the winner of the award because he tirelessly provided “respite from the trauma of the wards during the pandemic”.

Describing the six-year-old mixed-breed dog’s work as a “valuable service”, the charity said staff at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust “credit him with keeping their stress levels down”.

Jasper was presented with the special accolade in a ceremony at the House of Lords on Tuesday, alongside other animal and human heroes from all over the world.

Owner David Anderson, who works at the trust, said Jasper accompanied him to work to before the public health crisis to provide therapy services to stroke patients and patients undergoing end-of-life care.

But his attention was switched to hospital staff, who were under immense pressure when Covid-19 hit. Blackburn became one of the worst-affected areas in the UK at the height of the pandemic.

Anderson said: “Jasper’s role has always been to make people smile and feel better, and during the peak of the pandemic, when everyone was giving so much, sometimes staff just needed to have a cuddle with Jasper, have a cry and go back to the wards.

“There is no judgement with a dog and staff can show their emotions with him, take him out for a walk, or just sit quietly with him and reflect.”

Jasper, who is trained to go to people in distress or who are crying, will continue to help support staff. He is now allowed to visit children’s wards as well after successfully completing further therapy training to support younger patients.

IFAW also gave an Australian koala detection dog, Bear, a special recognition award for his work in finding sick and injured koalas during a major crisis.

Bear was credited with locating more than 100 koalas during Australia’s 2019-2020 bushfires, which has been dubbed the Black Summer due to the vast damage caused by the crisis. The fire destroyed 3,113 houses and an estimated three billion animals were affected.

James Sawyer, UK regional director of IFAW, said: “Our winners this year can teach us many valuable lessons. They teach us that we need to reflect a diverse community of animal protectors to be successful.

“They teach us that being there for animals remains important but that animals can be there for us too. Critically, this reminds us how interdependent we are with the animals of the world and how together we need to continue to work to improve things for all of us.”

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