Doggy Day Care at Bellsdyke Hospital

Doggy day care has taken on a whole new meaning at NHS Forth Valley’s Bellsdyke Hospital near Larbert. Every Monday patients are now being encouraged to stroke and groom a selection of four-legged friends, including a Golden Retriever, Bichon Frise, Shetland Collie and a Cockapoo, as part of an initiative to improve wellbeing.

The dogs, which belong to members of the Stirling Dog Behavioural Centre at Bandeath Industrial Estate near Throsk, are trained by Ann Watt who helped set up a charity known as Paws for Autism. Dogs Winnie, Toby and Cara are all family members and Coco is training to become a service dog to help a youngster with autism.

Coco’s ‘Mum’ Shona Costelloe said bringing a dog into the life of her autistic son has been so successful she wants to share this positive outcome within the community. She explained: “My son has no road safety awareness, so if it’s not safe for Coco to do, it’s not safe for him. If he disappears at all Coco won’t let him out of her sight and will track him down for me. We’ve been teaching him friendship through Coco. This took about ten months to develop but if Coco doesn’t like his behaviour she will walk away from him. This tells him that if other children don’t like what he’s doing, they will walk away too.”

The dog walkers visit three inpatient facilities at Bellsdyke Hospital – Trystpark, Trystview and Russell Park – and come equipped with combs and grooming brushes. The dogs are trained to sit and offer a paw, and there are plans to introduce small pieces of agility equipment so the dogs can be put through gentle paces.

Shona said: “I think our visit gives the patients something to look forward to and they really like Mondays. They recognise the individual dogs and build personal relationships with each animal. They talk about their own experiences of having pets and what animals they’ve had in their lives and it helps with stress. If something has being upsetting them, we see them calm down and it can put them in a better mood.”

NHS Forth Valley Deputy Charge Nurse at Trystview, Kathleen Brown, agrees. She said: “It brightens our patients’ day and makes them smile. Bringing dogs to Bellsdyke is invaluable and after the visit our patients are so cheerful and more relaxed in themselves. It’s a great idea and a really good service.”

The charity Paws for Autism believe they’re the first in Scotland to train family dogs to do what service dogs do, and say they would welcome enquiries from any other organisation which believes a visit would be beneficial. Anyone interested in finding out more should contact Shona Costelloe at