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Why I volunteer: “It all began with a puppy”

Author: Simone Crawford
27 March 2017

Simone Crawford volunteers for Royal Trinity Hospice in Clapham, London, as part of the Pets as Therapy team. Here she shares her reasons for getting involved and its rewards.

My husband Jeremy has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),  and had been advised to keep walking, so we thought a dog would be the ideal companion.  We decided that a Border Terrier would be an appropriately lively breed and the right size for a London garden, so in 2009 an 8-week-old Clemmie came into our lives. 

Then a few months into her twice-a-day walking we realised we had made a whole new circle of friends, not only other dog walkers but also neighbours with whom Clemmie became a great ice breaker.

Sadly, as Jeremy’s COPD worsened his share of the dog walking diminished, but three years ago, a fellow dog-walker who was also a GP, suggested that regular physio classes at Trinity might be beneficial.  Our own GP duly referred him as an out-patient and so began our association with the hospice.  On occasion, we took Clemmie in and she enjoyed the attention, the stunning gardens and the odd bit of cake that fell on the floor.

Eventually Jeremy became a member of the Patient Liaison Group and in the past year or so Clemmie and I have tagged along to their monthly meetings.  I’m sure all pet owners would say the same but Clemmie has always had the ability to lift my spirits and make me smile.  So, when another dog walking friend mentioned “Pets as Therapy” (PAT) I knew it was the right sort of volunteering for us.  Since stopping work I had wanted to volunteer and get more involved with the local community, but hadn’t found the right opportunity.

We undertook the PAT training and Clemmie received her one and only certificate, of which we are very proud.  It was then up to me to pass Trinity’s interview and training course for volunteers. Having an HR background I was very impressed with the rigour of this process and the care taken to make sure that you are volunteering in the right area and for the right reasons.  We had a full day’s training and six assessments to pass. 

Volunteering is very much like dog walking.  You meet lots of interesting people and for a moment in both your lives you swap stories and experiences.  The most poignant lesson is that people don’t change; chatterers are chatty, raconteurs are still funny and happy to share their lives and private people remain private and this must be respected.  I have had wonderful conversations about mindfulness, religion, and fascinating family stories, shared the beauty of the spring gardens and discussed the merits of Donald Trump.  You never know the turn a conversation will take or what you will learn. 

Clemmie, now nearly eight, loves her weekly visit and happily trots around the hospice and takes the attention in her stride.  I feel humbled by the staff’s dedication and enriched by the conversations, and only hope that our visits have contributed in a small way to the general well-being of staff and patients alike.

For more information, visit the volunteer page at Royal Trinity Hospice.  

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