Staff on Ysbyty Gwynedd’s Hergest psychiatric unit have hailed a special four-legged friend who has been helping to dramatically improve patients’ mental health.

Max, an eight-year-old samoyed, and his owner, Paul Alexander, make weekly visits to the hospital’s 40-bed mental health unit.

The retired businessman from Anglesey volunteers his time under a scheme run by the Therapy Dogs Nationwide charity.

The visits have been widely praised by staff for leading to dramatic improvements in patients’ mood, self-esteem and willingness to engage with others.

“It’s been quite incredible to see the development in our patients’ mental health after a visit from Max,” said activity nurse Catrin Roberts.

“When people come into hospital, they can lose a lot of the tactile, everyday physical contact with people, so being able to stroke and pet, a soft cuddly dog, can have a really calming effect on them.

“Patients can also really miss their pets when they are admitted to hospital so when they see Max they can get quite emotional. It really gives them a lot of comfort.

“We have some patients who are unwilling to take part in any activities during their first couple of weeks after admission.

“But when Max is here, they will come out of their rooms and start to engage. It’s a really good starting point for patients who might be too anxious to attend other activities.”

Max and Paul also make regular visits to nine hospital wards at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Ysbyty Cefni and Ysbyty Penrhos Stanley, as well as four residential homes across Anglesey.

“It’s hard to decide who Max has a greater effect on – whether it’s patients or staff,” said Paul.

“Hospital staff tell me it’s like seeing a Mexican wave of smiles and joy when Max visits them.

“Patients tell me that seeing Max is one of their greatest pleasures in hospital.”

The therapy dog visits are just one of a number of activities and therapies on the Hergest unit.

Patients are encouraged to take part in such things as art therapy, gardening, craft and games groups, exercise and relaxation classes.

Paul is encouraging other dog owners to consider becoming part of Therapy Dogs Nationwide.

He said: “Not only does it keep me busy but it’s extremely rewarding too. It gives me great pleasure to see the smiles on peoples’ faces when they come into contact with Max.”

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