26 May 2024

Share this story

Back to news

When Alfie the pug is on duty at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital everyone knows about it. He's something of an A-Lister here.

Wherever he goes on the wards people smile and want to meet him, give his paw a high five, or have their picture taken with him - an Alfie Selfie so to speak.

For a little dog, he's making a big impression working with charity Pets As Therapy (PAT). He and owner Suzy Emsden visit twice a month bringing some sunshine into the lives of young patients and their families, often going through the darkest of times.

In the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing, Alfie was here offering comfort to the many youngsters left injured in the blast.

Suzy said: "He just has a little something you can't put your finger on that makes people feel better. It's magical."

Suzy has been volunteering with Pets As Therapy for eight years - a charity supported by players of People's Postcode Lottery. Her day job as a trained paediatric intensivist at Manchester University Hospital Foundation Trust - specialising in the care of children who are seriously ill or injured - has given her a unique perspective on the needs of children in hospital and the benefits animal therapy can bring.

Suzy said: "We have lots of little ones who come into hospital and won't speak to anybody because it's all very scary and a new environment for them. But then they see Alfie. He helps in so many ways. Sometimes they'll happily chat away to him, or just sit with him or pat him. You see their little faces light up and that means so much, especially for the parents.

"Alfie's not bothered by drips and beeps and alarms and things, he doesn't see any of that. He just sees a person who wants to interact with him."

Five-year-old Axl Buckley-Mayall has been in hospital for almost four months, having been diagnosed as a baby with kyphoscoliosis - an abnormal curve of the spine. He's receiving treatment and awaiting an operation. It's a lot for a young boy to deal with and his mum Rebbeca knows how much he's missing being back home with his pets.

When Alfie and Suzy walk into the ward, Axl's face is a picture of happiness. A huge smile breaks out as he cuddles his furry friend.

Petsastheraphy DSC0029 (4)

Rebbeca said: "Axl was so excited and over the moon seeing Alfie. He loves all animals - big or small - so the visit meant a lot to us. He has animals at home, including chickens and ducks, which he absolutely loves - so seeing Alfie really made his day and mine too, because I saw just how much it really meant to him."

Rebbeca added: "I think visits like this in hospitals for young children and teenagers do make a difference. It can be a stressful time for a family, but this can really help."

Petsastheraphy DSC0029 (3)

Alfie is one of thousands of PAT animals across the country visiting those in need of companionship and helping to improve health and well-being in hospitals, care homes, hospices and schools.

To date, Postcode Lottery players have raised £100,000 to enable the charity to continue to expand its reach further.

Suzy said: "There are certain things that modern medicine just can't do - and that is to replicate the love of an animal.

"We've had lots of first smiles when people are waking up from having something serious happening. For quite a few babies that have never left hospital, Alfie has been the first dog that they have ever met.

"After the Manchester Arena bomb, we met lots of people. Some of the families are still in touch and talk about the difference he made at the time, which is so lovely to know. He is just a little dog but it's amazing how he can just touch people."

Petsastheraphy DSC0029 (2)

Suzy remembers visiting one young boy who was very distressed and upset on the ward. His nursing team had gone to get him some painkillers.

Suzy said: "I told him Alfie didn't like noise and shouting, but if he calmed down he would come and see him. And of course, he did. By the time the nurse arrived back with the painkillers Alfie and the little boy were both fast asleep. As somebody said later, 'Pugs not drugs!'"

For staff on the wards too, Alfie brings some welcome respite from what can often be a high-stress environment.

And parents often ask for a cuddle with him.

"'Of course you can,' I say," said Suzy. "'Alfie is here for everybody.'"

Matt Robinson, PAT's Head of Income Generation and Marketing, said, "The support we receive from players of People's Postcode Lottery has been transformative, significantly contributing to our improved reach across the UK.

"Visits from volunteer teams like Suzy and Alfie allow us to bring companionship, joy, and therapeutic benefits to thousands of individuals in local communities. Each visit not only brightens days but also profoundly impacts mental and physical well-being, fostering connections between people and pets. This partnership exemplifies the incredible difference that collective support and generosity can make, directly contributing to the enrichment of lives and communities through the power of animal-assisted therapy."

As Suzy and Alfie come to the end of their latest visit, Suzy takes time to reflect.

"There is no substitute for it" she said. "You could spend the money on thousands of cuddly toys and, of course, that would make children smile and that would be great. But having a therapy animal going into a hospital or other settings just captures that moment of animal and human interaction. Every day I see how this one little dog raises so many smiles and lifts so many spirits.

"If we could have that for every person who needs it - a moment where they can feel like themselves again and be happy - wouldn't that be a wonderful thing!"