There’s a lot of evidence that animals and pets can have a positive impact on mental health but it’s not common in supported living environments. That isn’t the case at Pathways, a supported housing scheme for people with mental health issues in Bexhill (East Sussex), where we’ve seen the significant benefits that therapy dog visits can bring.

Ollie the therapy dog

People living at Pathways come from many different backgrounds but what they all have in common is shared experience of mental ill health and a need to build on their independent living skills. Pathways scheme manager Kate Poyser’s family pet Ollie is a trained therapy dog who works with her autistic son. Following a resident’s suggestion, she arranged for Ollie to visit the scheme.

Ollie made a positive impact straight away:

“Residents who were isolating themselves were coming out of their rooms to sit and stroke Ollie. This prompted them to start chatting to other residents and to start building friendships. It was amazing to see these relationships developing with Ollie along with people’s mental health starting to improve.”

Residents then started to take Ollie for walks in the local area. One customer told Kate that when people on the street talk to him while he’s walking Ollie, it made him feel he’s just the same as anyone else.

Ollie the therapy dog on the beach

Ollie playing fetch on the beach with Kate

Residents have also said that when they move on from Pathways they would like to get a dog as they know it will motivate them to go out every day and chat to other people.

As budgets for mental health services continue to be cut across the country, low cost interventions like therapy dog visits need to be explored further. We would welcome a wider discussion at Homes UK on potential barriers and solutions to make pet therapy more commonplace at supported living schemes.