Therapy dog Ruby hangs up her yellow jacket for the last time

Canine Queen Ruby has retired as a therapy dog for patients at Nottingham hospitals after nine years.

Ruby and Bertie are well-known at NUH, raising smiles and aaahs wherever they go – wearing their yellow therapy dog jackets – and leave a lasting impression on everyone they meet.

On her final walk through Queen’s Medical Centre, a former patient became quite emotional as she thanked Ruby and Dale for visiting her when she was in a high-dependency unit during the pandemic.

And a young woman came up and thanked them for helping her during her antenatal appointments – and invited them up to the ward to meet her newborn.

“The dogs are particularly useful with male patients,” said owner Dale Buckland. “They all tend to be on their tablets or phones and not really chatting. The dogs come in and they spark a conversation, so it stops the patients being socially isolated.”

A chat with Dudley, on B49 ward, sparked reminiscence of his early years in the war and memories of Margaret Thatcher growing up in Grantham. His eyes filled up as he stroked Ruby, saying she reminded him how much he missed his own dog, Lucy. “A dog is a friend at night when you’re on your own,” said Dudley.

Healthcare Assistant Georgia Wing said: “Ruby brings such joy to the ward – it makes our patients smile and that makes me happy – when they walked in, you saw Dudley’s face light up instantly.”

Ruby and Bertie are Pooches – Pets Offering Ongoing Care Help & Extra Support – which was set up by healthcare assistant Dale in 2012, when he started bringing his dog Alfie onto A45, the ward he worked on. He was asked if Alfie could visit B47, a ward for older patients, and it all started there. Bertie is the great-great nephew of Alfie.

The pair are French Briards, which have the ideal temperament to be therapy dogs. They are socialised from a very young age and enjoy the social interactions.

During the pandemic, Ruby worked at the COVID-19 vaccination hub at Forest Recreation Ground and helped calm any youngsters who were scared of needles. In the past few weeks Ruby and Bertie have visited a young patient who was missing her dog, and a young woman in intensive care who is paralysed.

Barbara Cathcart, Chief Executive of Nottingham Hospitals Charity, said: “We are so pleased to be able to fund the Pooches’ visits across Nottingham’s hospitals, and are grateful to Dale, Ruby and Bertie for all the joy they bring to patients, visitors and staff. Ruby has had a wonderful career, making a difference to people’s everyday lives and helping to ease patients’ anxiety during their time in hospital, and she brings joy to staff on her visits as well.

“We hope Ruby enjoys her well-deserved retirement, and enjoys putting her paws up! We’ll certainly miss seeing her wagging tail around the hospitals.”

Dale said: ““Ruby loves wandering around the hospitals, being adored. She’s a celebrity and she knows it! But she was 10 on 28 December, so it’s time to retire her. Bertie will be coming in on his own now while Ruby will be lying on the sofa, living the life of luxury like the diva she is!

“After we’ve done our rounds at the hospitals, we always stop and get a sausage from the chip shop. Ruby might not be on the wards any more but I reckon she will still get her sausage.”

And then Dale led Ruby – for the last time – down the hospital corridor to visit those newborn babies.

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