A puppy rescued just days from death is now an NHS volunteer supporting stroke and cancer patients as a therapy dog.
Rolo was one of 30 dogs rescued by the RSPCA in December 2013 after being bred for the Christmas markets.
The tiny springerdoodle was just days from death, suffering from e-coli, with two of his littermates already dying from the infection.
Now the seven-year-old dog helps support patients at Ipswich Hospital and is also an ambassador for rescue dogs.
His owner, Claire Dean, said: “I’ve always wanted to do Pets as Therapy, before I even got a dog.
“We got Rolo in January 2014 when he was about 12-weeks-old – he was really lucky to pull through, because he’d have been the next puppy to die, for sure.”
Since volunteering for Pets as Therapy, Rolo has gone on to be the RSPCA’s cover star for their Animal Kind campaign, shared his story on Channel 5’s The Dog Rescuers and has been featured in a recruitment video highlighting the work of volunteers at Ipswich Hospital.
The 56-year-old copywriter added: “We love to get out and help people because Rolo is a great rescue advocate highlighting that puppy farms still exist. He helps spread awareness of Pets as Therapy, and shows that there are so many lovely rescue dogs out there.”
Previously, Rolo volunteered at Southend Hospital, spreading joy to patients and their families.
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Mum-of-two Claire added: “It’s just so lovely to see people’s eyes light up – I just go to the hospital and hold the lead – Rolo does all the magic.
“Some patients like to talk about Rolo’s story, and will talk about their own pets too. He’s a real catalyst for conversation.
“One patient who was blind and deaf felt Rolo on her bed and shouted ‘it’s a dog! It’s a real dog’.
“She hadn’t spoken coherently for a long time and it was just absolutely magical. The nurses all clapped, and it was such a wonderful moment.”
Rolo also helps distract children having cannulas fitted, or when they need to take their medicine, taking their mind off treatment for a short while.
Claire added: “When we go in we always go to the stroke and cancer wards, but people often see us in the corridor and will ask if we can go and visit their relatives, so if the ward will let us, we go and do that too.
“At Southend, he was the first ever dog to be allowed on the children’s ward. It was amazing to see the impact he had not only on patients, but their families and the staff.”
But since Covid-19 hit the UK, Rolo has been unable to work in hospitals and volunteer at the job he loves.
Instead he’s been looking after his owner, who was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in 11 years.
Claire underwent a mastectomy in 2009, and over Christmas, discovered she had cancer in her remaining breast.
Rolo has been taking his therapy dog role very seriously at home, making sure his mum is always laughing.
She added: “It’s extremely unlucky to be diagnosed with breast cancer twice, but Rolo has been a brilliant support.
“He’s always there for me and makes me laugh because he’s so mischievous.
“If you have something that’s life threatening and you have an animal with you, they’re so intuitive and can be so soothing. They have that innate ability to communicate with us in such a unique way. That bond is amazing.”