UK charity Camp Simcha has enlisted the help of some four-legged volunteers to support children suffering from serious illnesses.

Animal assisted intervention has been shown to significantly reduce pain, anxiety and fatigue in people with a range of health problems. As part of the Hendon-based charity’s new Paws For Fun service three dogs and their owners have been selected and specially trained to visit families who could benefit from some animal assisted therapy.

Camp Simcha Family Liaison Officer Mandy Isaacs, who is co-ordinating the new service says: ‘Studies of the human/animal companion bond, reveal that interactions with animals increase endorphins promoting relaxation, pain relief, stress relief and joy.  There are also the benefits of just simply enjoying some playtime with animals.

‘And it’s not only the ill person who reaps the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too. Animals also can be taught to reinforce rehabilitative behaviours in patients, such as throwing a ball or walking.’

Families who feel they could benefit from this will have weekly visits from the dogs and their owners.

Gavriel Rosenfeld, 14, who has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy has just had his third visit from a brown flat coat retriever, Benji.

His mum Kerry says:  ‘In a family where a child has complex medical needs, having the responsibility of a dog is a lot to take on with all the extra demands. With Benji, it’s wonderful because we have the pleasure of a pet without the responsibility.

‘All the children love Benji’s visits, but he really connects with Gavriel who is able to completely relax and be at ease when he is there. It’s time that Gavriel can enjoy that has nothing to do with his medical condition. It’s a real stress relief for the whole family and it has had such a massive impact on us.

‘Benji’s owner is also wonderful. He spends the whole time sitting and chatting to Gavriel while he plays with Benji. Together they bring so much happiness into our home.’

White Bichon Frise Molly has now become a weekly visitor to eight-year-old Nix, who has Dystonic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy with blindness and regular seizures as well as other complications. Nix’s sister Adi also has a less severe form of Spastic Dystonic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy.

Mum Karen says: ‘The girls love Molly. She is very sweet and Adi likes to get her to do tricks. Nix cannot see but she likes the feel of Molly, even though she is not usually tactile.

‘Nix also loves the sound of Molly’s paws scrabbling around on our laminate floor – she thinks it’s hysterical.

Karen says it also helps with their muscle control – which is an issue for both girls. ‘They have to learn to stroke her gently and control their arm movements which is very good for them.

‘The visits are lovely because they are just gentle fun. Both girls get very tired and Nix has

lots of seizures after school so we cannot really go out and do activities. Having Molly come to us is lovely and not too much for the girls.’

Camp Simcha supports families in the Jewish community coping with serious childhood illness through a range of practical and emotional support services. It also supports children of all denominations in hospital with balloon and toy drops.