Chunk the dog is helping mental health patients with their recovery

Roma Carter with her dog Chunk
Roma Carter with her dog Chunk

Meet Chunk the dog – the furry friend that is bringing calmness and laughter to mental health patients.

The Cockapoo puppy has become a friend to staff and patients at The Chichester Centre, which is run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and is based behind St Richard’s Hospital in Graylingwell Drive.

A service user from the centre said: “She makes me feel happy and is a joy to have around. When I feel stressed she cheers me up, just by being there. I feel relaxed when she’s there and it makes me feel really happy when I know I’m going to see her.”

Chunk belongs to Roma Carter, who is an occupational therapist at the centre. She thought having a dog on the wards could make a real positive difference .

She said: “Before coming to The Chichester Centre a lot of people will have had pets in their own homes and would have grown fond of the therapeutic nature of having an animal by your side. Bringing a dog into the ward could help service users to feel more at home and less like they are in a hospital environment.”

There were some initial challenges after identifying there were no volunteers for therapy dogs in their area but undeterred, the team started looking into how they would be able to make this happen and decided to go down the route of getting an insured working dog. Roma persuaded her husband they should get a dog, and after a weekly training programme, 14-month-old Chunk was welcomed into The Chichester Centre for the first time. In the beginning it was planned that Chunk would come in to the service for three half days however, it soon became clear people didn’t only want Chunk for specific groups and activities but also to just have the dog there on the ward with them. Now everyone can enjoy spending time with Chunk who now spends three full days per week at the centre.

Activities include walking groups, where service users are able to hold Chunk’s lead and walk with the dog, and Chunk also plays football with them in the garden.

Roma said: “On the wards now you hear spontaneous laughter, which you can sometimes miss in a hospital setting. People can just have fun and enjoy spending time with an animal. She helps people to feel as close to home as they can, and gives them the opportunity to speak to her when they feel they can’t speak to anyone else.”