Therapy dog helping homeless people set to appear at Crufts grand final

Honey, who works as a therapy dog at Thames Reach hostels, is set to appear at Crufts 2018

Therapy dog helping homeless people set to appear at Crufts grand final

A therapy dog helping to transform the lives of homeless people has won the semi-final of the prestigious crossbreed dog show Scruffts, and is now set to appear in the Crufts 2018 grand final.

Honey, a five-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier-Whippet cross, won the Best Crossbreed Rescue category in the semi-final held at the ExCel Centre in London earlier this month.

She was adopted late last year by clinical psychologist Emma Williamson, who runs an innovative project helping Thames Reach hostel residents in Lambeth.

Honey, a Pets as Therapy (PAT) dog, comes into work every day with Emma, where she puts clients at ease, and helps them engage with the psychologists in ways they might otherwise find difficult, as many of the residents have experienced trauma and can have a hard time trusting people. Honey helps Emma build bridges with people, works alongside Thames Reach staff and the other psychologists, and aids in the process of opening people up to the support and services available at the hostels and in the wider community.

Honey’s story clearly impressed the judges in the semi-final of the Best Crossbreed Rescue category at Scruffts – the dog show run by the Kennel Club for crossbreeds – and she is now set to enter the Crufts grand final in Birmingham.

This year’s Scruffts competition attracted over 1,300 crossbreeds and their owners, and Honey is one of only six dogs to have made it all the way to the final, where she will compete for the overall Scruffts Family Crossbreed Dog of the Year.

She’s also being followed by a Channel 4 film crew making a documentary on Scruffts, which will air after the final next March.

Emma and Honey are part of the unique Psychology in Hostels project, run in partnership by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) and Thames Reach, which sees psychologists based full-time at two hostels in Lambeth.

It provides access to therapies that homeless people often miss out on because of their potentially chaotic lifestyles, and helps the hostel residents to become more self-reliant and independent, and improves their physical, emotional and mental health.

Emma Williamson, who is a Clinical Psychologist at SLaM, said: “We have long known the benefits of using animals therapeutically and I have wanted to bring a dog on board as a member of the team for several years.

“We have found that Honey is able to put residents at ease, help them establish trust in staff, and support them in developing skills around keeping calm and managing anger and distress. Residents quickly find that if they are shouting, Honey will likely steer clear, giving direct feedback on what behaviour feels ok for her. Normally she wants to stick around for a pat, which encourages people to regulate their emotions.

“The judges were really interested in the work of the project more generally, and particularly to hear of the benefits that having a therapy dog gave to residents and staff.”

Honey has now found a home for life with Emma after repeatedly being returned to the rescue centre when previous adoptions didn’t work out.

Emma said: “She’s settled in well and doing amazing work to engage clients who had previously been very uncertain of meeting with one of the psychologists in their hostel.

“I am amazingly proud of Honey to have won the semi-final at Scruffts, as well as gaining recognition for therapy work with homeless people. It is also fantastic recognition of the lovely nature Staffies have, despite their bad reputation.”

Photo: ©Sportsbeat 2017

Read about Thames Reach hostel services