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Animal-assisted therapy helping patients with mental health conditions

29 November 2022

Patients at a secure mental health unit have been making friends with husky dogs as part of a project to help reduce their stress levels and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Over the summer months, the Occupational Therapy team at Ty Llewelyn in Llanfairfechan joined forces with local business Mynydd Sleddog Adventures to compile and launch a pilot project for patients at the unit.

The ‘K9 Club’ was launched during September and involved patients from all three wards taking part in a five-week course focused on animal interaction and welfare.

Ingrid Unsworth, Specialist Occupational Therapist for the North Wales Forensic Psychiatric Service, said: “Each weekly session focused on different aspects, for example week one was focused on dog behaviours and week two looked at animal welfare.

“Each patient was paired up with their own husky buddy and at the end of each session they would take their dog for a walk around the garden. Patients took on responsibility in the sessions for the care and treatment of their husky friend, ensuring they have clean water and were looked after.

“The feedback we had from the patients was exceptionally positive, and exceeded even our initial expectations and hopes.

“Their visits also gave hospital staff a boost with many getting involved and enjoying the sessions – this helped lift morale and gave us all many reasons to smile each week when the sessions happened and we saw the dogs arrive.

“To make sure we were promoting a healthy lifestyle we held all the sessions outside – in any weather!”

Joe Swiffen, Company Director at Mynydd Sleddog Adventures, who has previously worked for the Probation Services, said: “I was delighted to be asked to be part of this pilot and see the huge difference the dogs have made to the patients at the unit.

“One patient in particular joined the sessions very quiet and withdrawn and as the weeks went by we could see he was beginning to start conversations with others – so the sessions had really helped with improving his confidence and communication skills.”

The pilot was funded through a grant made possible from donations to the North Wales NHS Charity Awyr Las. The team now hope to repeat the sessions offered at Ty Llewelyn next year.

Anyone wanting any further information on the project should contact Ingrid Unsworth directly by emailing