We love to see others doing good. To capture the essence of this, we're taking a glimpse at some incredible people and the work they do. We had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Ankita Batla and her therapy dog Apollo about their wonderful and heartwarming work at Great Ormond Street Hospital and local primary schools.
What is animal-assisted therapy?
Animal-assisted therapy uses animals (often dogs, horses or birds) to help people cope with, or recover from, mental and physical health conditions. These animals provide company, extra support or are even trained to spot medical emergencies.
Apollo is a three-year-old Imperial Shih Tzu who visits Great Ormond Street Hospital to comfort children who are missing home, to distract those receiving treatment and to add joy to the wards for the children, family and staff members. Ankita and Apollo also deliver workshops to primary schools and work to support charity beneficiaries.
How did Apollo become a therapy dog?
Before Apollo was even born, Ankita knew she wanted to improve the lives of others with a therapy dog. As soon as he turned nine months old, Ankita wrote to the assessment centre to book his test.
Apollo's first job was helping children with learning difficulties at a local primary school. Through this work, Ankita realised that animal-assisted therapy could help far children even beyond those in need and that all children could benefit from someone like Apollo. "It almost felt selfish, to let only one child play with Apollo". Ankita tells us about the workshops she held at the school, helping children to identify and process their thoughts and emotions. These workshops were designed to take children through familiar scenarios, using Apollo as the focus of the story.
What is it like working at Great Ormond Street?
"Great Ormond Street was a world of its own". Ankita discusses the transition between working with primary school children and GOSH patients, who have a very different set of needs.
"There have been so many goosebump moments". Ankita describes Apollo's innate empathy and how he supports the patients in whatever way suits them best. She tells us that not only do patients love spending time with Apollo, but his presence also brings together the staff and families. "We go there for the patients, but it's therapy for everyone". Working at Great Ormond Street sounds like tiring work for Apollo, but he manages to work about three hours at a time - a long time to be on his little paws!
How could we help the NHS staff that you've met through your work?
We took a quick break from discussing Apollo's therapy work to talk about the hardworking staff at Great Ormond Street and other frontline workers around the country. "All these professionals tend to believe that entertainment is selfish. It would be a gift of time for them to be able to do something, maybe even as a group. It would be a lovely thing for them". We hope that giving frontline workers access to in-person events and online content will allow us to give these selfless workers, as Ankita puts it, the gift of time.
What's next for Apollo?
Before we finish up our interview, we speak to Ankita about her future plans for Apollo's work. We talk about her plans to help with phasing out COVID-related stress, explaining the impact it has had.
"It's been strange. It has disconnected us from love and from the human connection that we feel with each other, the therapeutic nature of being with each other". Ankita hopes that Apollo can play a role in helping people in need to return to normal after the pandemic. She tells us that they aim to continue their work in hospitals, schools, charities and even aspire to work in prisons one day, introducing love to unconventional settings where she feels Apollo can make a difference.
Unfortunately, Apollo cannot visit Great Ormond Street at the moment due to the current COVID regulations. However, he has recently been able to start working at a local primary school again!
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