NHS's first physiotherapy dog for children

Dozens of sick and injured youngsters are having their care transformed by the NHS's first physiotherapy dog for children.

Nine-year-old labradoodle Poppy has become the star of the show at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, bringing joy to children regaining their strength or learning to walk again after suffering broken bones, brain injuries and developmental issues.

Working with trained animals such as Poppy – who, with their owners, are volunteers through the charity Pets As Therapy – is proven to motivate patients and quicken their recovery.

They have already been used to help rehabilitate adult patients following a stroke, but in a pilot project at Addenbrooke's, Poppy was brought on board to see if she could assist children.

Evie Evans, a 13-year-old from Harlow in Essex, was one of the first to enjoy Poppy's company. She had been left unable to walk due to complications caused by her Down's syndrome following a near-fatal lung infection in July. But her confidence grew through sitting up in bed and playing with Poppy, who was also there during Evie's more intensive therapy.

And Evie eventually progressed enough to take her first steps with Poppy on a lead. Evie's mum, Sara Evans, says: 'It was an amazing moment. It was because of Poppy that Evie first stood with her at the parallel bars. Poppy got Evie to do things she wouldn't have done otherwise – we call it Poppy power.'

The three-month pilot, led by paediatric physiotherapist Jonny Littlewood, has now become a permanent feature at the hospital and more than 40 children have since been supported by Poppy.

Mr Littlewood says: 'She is such a happy, curly-haired labradoodle, bringing with her an infectious energy. Poppy adapts to each child and is able to push patients harder to achieve their therapy goals more quickly.'

Poppy's owner, Lisa Smart, adds: 'Sometimes the children are at their darkest times, and to put a smile on their face – and that of their parents – is an absolute privilege.'