Suzi and her owner Stephen Sims are regular visitors to the ellenor hospice at Northfleet. Patients, their families and staff always look forward to her friendly wet nose and waggy tail.
And this Christmas Suzi’s fans are in for a real treat – she will be arriving in her new festive outfit, carefully created from items bought in charity shops by Stephen and his wife Pat.
The four-year-old black Labrador retriever cross is a PAT (Pets as Therapy) dog who helps people cope with life’s challenges by making them smile and feel relaxed.
She has been visiting the hospice since June, meeting patients and their families on The Green and occasionally visiting the in-patient ward. She is also very popular with the nurses and other ellenor staff and especially enjoys lying on their feet!
Stephen said: “I’m not sure if she’s terribly pleased about the new Christmas outfit, but we are definitely looking forward to coming along to the ellenor events and joining in with the celebrations. She loves all the attention. All our dogs have always been spoiled at Christmas. They even get presents from the family and from our neighbours. Everyone loves Suzi – she is such a good-natured dog.”
Stephen and Pat, who have always been dog lovers, are puppy raisers for Guide Dogs for the Blind. At the moment they are training Lydia, a seven-month-old yellow Labrador, who also recently paid a visit to the hospice. The two dogs are looking forward to a bit of rough and tumble this Christmas.
Stephen said: “Suzi loves opening the presents more than she enjoys the toys inside, whereas Lydia loves toys. She has a whole basket of them. She loves to greet people with a toy in her mouth, preferably two toys!”
Suzi was originally taken on by Stephen and Pat as a potential guide dog, but unfortunately an illness delayed her progress, and it was decided she would no longer be suitable for the training programme.
Stephen said: “She picked up a virus and was in dog hospital for 12 weeks and then it took six months to get her back to what she was. It’s a shame as she would have made a fantastic guide dog, but it was probably the best decision and it worked to our advantage. We were offered Suzi and of course we couldn’t say no – especially after everything she had been through. She is now our pet.
“When she was young, she was easily distracted by other dogs or animals. She would even bark at animals on TV, but as she has matured, she has become calmer. She doesn’t get too excited about other dogs – unless she is in the back of the car, then she has to bark at them!”
Stephen is a volunteer speaker for Guide Dogs and takes Suzi to plenty of fundraising events.