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DR MAX PEMBERTON: Trust me… dogs really are the best medicine

Yesterday saw the end of Crufts and while the crowd clapped and heaped praise on the elegance and fine breeding of the pedigrees, for me this year’s top dog is a mongrel called Chewie. Now, as marvelous a mutt as he is, Chewie, a Yorkshire terrier cross, will never win Best in Show. He was, however, up for Hero Dog of the Year and surely that’s the top prize in canine circles?

A rescue dog, Chewie saved his owner’s life by raising the alarm and doing a CPR ‘party trick’ he had learned to do on other dogs. His owner, Ray Whiteley, 55, who has multiple sclerosis, collapsed at his home while his wife, Loretta, was in the garden.

Little Chewie began frantically barking, licking his face and then leapt on his owner’s chest and started jumping up and down in an attempt to revive him. His wife of him heard the commotion and ran indoors.

Dr Max Pemberton reveals how dogs can be beneficial for helping people through an illness (file image)

Before she could get her husband out of his wheelchair, his heart stopped beating. She performed CPR on him after calling 999 and while waiting for the paramedics. Mr Whiteley has now made a full recovery and the couple are planning their 30th wedding anniversary this year, thanks, they say, to the actions of Chewie.

The story would be lovely if it ended there. But for me, the really touching part was in the comments Mrs Whiteley made about the little dog in general.

‘Ray struggles with his speech but it’s almost like he has found a way to communicate with Chewie,’ she said. ‘Chewie always has his eye on Ray. It’s like he is his soulmate of him.’

And for me, this is really the magic of dogs: that special bond they can form with humans and the way they seem to make that connection implicitly, even with those who struggle to speak.

While not all dogs can resuscitate their owners, I’ve seen plenty of them bring their owners back to life — in a manner of speaking.

On several wards where I’ve worked, we’ve had therapy dogs visit and I always love seeing how the older patients spring to life when there’s a four-legged friend nearby. I remember one old man who’d had a stroke and sunk into depression.

He refused to engage with any of the ward activities and only got out of bed when the nurses forced him. He did not see the point and he would sit and stare out of the window all day.

The physiotherapists would come each day and try to coax him into doing his exercises to improve his walking, but he flatly refused.

The psychiatrists came and diagnosed him with depression, which is common in people after they’ve had strokes, not just because of the impairment they suffer and the impact this has on their lives, but also because the damage in the brain can disrupt delicate neurochemicals , leading to a drop in mood and motivation. He was put on antidepressants, but they take weeks to start working.

Dr Max (pictured) has seen people who are so riddled with arthritis that they should be bed-bound, but who nevertheless drag themselves up to take their dog for a much-needed walk

Dr Max (pictured) has seen people who are so riddled with arthritis that they should be bed-bound, but who nevertheless drag themselves up to take their dog for a much-needed walk

The clinicians were at a loss to know what to do and there was a risk that, if he didn’t start to practice walking again soon, his leg muscles would waste away and he’d be bed-bound for the remainder of his life .

To make matters worse, he had begun to develop a bed sore from lying in bed day after day. Things were looking pretty bleak for him. However, an enterprising physiotherapist struck upon the idea of ​​bringing her dog onto the ward.

The clever bit came when she introduced him to the patient and, seeing a flicker of interest, explained that she didn’t have time to walk him.

It’s hard to ignore a cold, wet nose being nuzzled against your hand and a wagging tail. Bingo! The man was soon up on his feet from him and learning to walk again with a frame.

The physiotherapist brought her dog in three times a week and soon the man was badgering the physiotherapists and nurses to get him up so he could go out and follow the dog round the hospital garden.

A study in Nature last week suggested Covid may shrink the brain and be to blame for faster cognitive decline in older people. The study found parts of the brain responsible for smell shrunk up to three times faster than normal. The question now is whether these changes are reversible.

Maybe it’s fanciful, but I think that dog somehow knew what it was doing. It would run along and then stop, waiting for the man to catch up, and then run on a bit more.

It was quite astonishing to watch because, gradually, he was encouraging the man to push himself in a way he would never have accepted from a physiotherapist. The dog might not have exactly saved his life from him in a big, dramatic fashion, but he helped change it in a way that none of the staff were quite able to do.

Ask any doctor and they’ll have similar stories of dogs that have helped people through an illness, or formed a bond with their owner which has meant they’ve got a reason to keep going and push themselves.

I’ve seen people who are so riddled with arthritis that they should be bed-bound, but who nevertheless drag themselves up to take their beloved dog for a much-needed walk.

Despite their disabilities, thanks to their dog, they actually do more exercise than many people half their age.

I often think that if dogs were a medication, they’d be hailed as a miracle cure.

I’m glad PC penny is on my beat

Dr Max said he's longing to meet TV star and former model Penny Lancaster (pictured) on the beat in the City of London

Dr Max said he’s longing to meet TV star and former model Penny Lancaster (pictured) on the beat in the City of London

Penny Lancaster has made her first arrest as a special constable. I still can’t believe she’s actually a special constable in my area (City of London) and I’m longing to meet the TV star and former model, pictured left, on the beat. I’ve been so impressed with her for volunteering. I’m particularly interested to hear she has found being a mum was the best training for her role, saying: ‘I think having the patience and the empathy to deal with teenagers in particular helps.’ The wife of Rod Stewart could easily be at home, putting her feet up in the lap of luxury. Instead, she’s fighting crime. What an amazing role model!

Last month Leeds University put content warnings on 43 books, plays, poems and films that contain ¿potentially troubling or sensitive¿ material including Orwell¿s 1984 (pictured)

Last month Leeds University put content warnings on 43 books, plays, poems and films that contain ‘potentially troubling or sensitive’ material including Orwell’s 1984 (pictured)

  • Last month Leeds University put content warnings on 43 books, plays, poems and films that contain ‘potentially troubling or sensitive’ material including Orwell’s 1984 and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. What a load of bilge. Those who engage in these meaningless warnings are hijacking the great work that has been done to tackle the stigma of mental illness in order to shut down debate and silence people they don’t like. It’s offensive to those who really do have conditions like PTSD. The idea that simply having topics broached or ideas challenged could trigger their symptoms is laughable. This is all about annexing mental illness as a status symbol — people like the idea they are special and worthy of extra attention. If they understood the real toll mental illness can take, they would be less keen to stake their claim.

Dr Max prescribes…

Cinderella the Musical

Dr Max said he was blown away when he went to watch Cinderella the Musical with his godchildren last week

Dr Max said he was blown away when he went to watch Cinderella the Musical with his godchildren last week

I’m not a fan of musicals, but I went to this with my godchildren last week and was blown away. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s retelling of the classic is silly and funny but gently challenges gender stereotypes and fairy tale tropes. It has plenty of relatable messages. Cinderella realizes, for example, that trying to be someone else at the ball is futile and she should just be herself. In an Instagram age, it’s a message many young people need to hear. A royal tonic.

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