A LANCASHIRE therapy dog is to be recognised for all of his hard work in the pandemic at a special award ceremony.

Jasper the cockapoo will be visiting the House of Lords to receive the special accolade from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

The six-year-old pooch will attend the ceremony along with owner, David Anderson, who works with East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust to support more than 9,000 staff across the Trust’s acute and community hospitals, including Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital and Burnley General Teaching Hospital.

Lancashire Telegraph: David Anderson and Jasper (Photo: Roger Allen)David Anderson and Jasper (Photo: Roger Allen)

Before the pandemic, Jasper had accompanied David to visit patients undergoing end of life care, as well as those suffering a mental health crisis.

He has also worked with physiotherapists assisting patients affected by strokes, with patients encouraged to stroke Jasper as part of their therapy.

When COVID-19 hit, Blackburn one of the worst affected areas in the country and Jasper was no longer able to visit the wards and initially had to stay at home, with David carrying out counselling sessions for end of life patients and goodbye calls for family members via Zoom.

However, with the huge strain placed on staff working through the darkest days of the pandemic, David soon realised there was a need for Jasper, as well as himself, to provide in-person support to hospital staff.

Lancashire Telegraph: Jasper with NHS staff (Photo: East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust)Jasper with NHS staff (Photo: East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust)

David, from Preston, set up opportunities for people to spend time with Jasper either one on one or in small groups through his ‘Conversations with Jasper’ sessions which proved to be hugely popular, with more than 1,000 staff taking part.

Jasper usually spends two full days a week in the Trust’s hospitals, sometimes three if demand is particularly high, and his role will continue to help support staff, though he is now allowed to visit children’s wards too after successfully completing further therapy training to support younger patients.

David 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 is trained to go to people showing distress or crying and is very perceptive to the emotions around him.

Lancashire Telegraph: Jasper on duty at Blackburn HospitalJasper on duty at Blackburn Hospital (Image: ELHT)

David explained that although the peak of the pandemic has passed, it was at this point for some staff that the trauma of the previous months hit home, and many have continued to struggle as the next wave of COVID patients has been markedly younger.

David added: “Many traumatised staff feel they can’t always share all the thoughts and feelings of working in the pandemic with family members, but they have got a lot from these sessions and many find it easier to talk while stroking Jasper.

"Lots of people are still struggling and all of us here will carry the scars of working through COVID forever, so it is important we offer this support.”

James Sawyer, UK Director of IFAW, said: “Jasper is an amazing dog and his work with David and hospital staff is a fantastic example of the positive relationships between animals and humans. When we heard about the difference Jasper was making to the lives of our dedicated NHS staff working during such a challenging time we knew he would be a very deserving winner of IFAW’s Animal of the Year Award.”

During the pandemic, Jasper received East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust ‘Employee of the month’ accolade for the comfort he had brought to staff and patients, while David received a British Empire Medal for his dedication and hard work supporting patients and staff.

When he is not at work, Jasper enjoys being a normal pet, going for walks with David and playing with the many toys he receives from his hospital friends.

Jasper will receive his award at IFAW’s prestigious Animal Action Awards event at the House of Lords on October 12.