Businesswoman Virginia Lown wanted to give something back to the Totnes hospital that cared for her following an accident that nearly killed her 15 years ago.
And with the help of her loveable Bernese Mountain Dog called Joss she thought she had found the perfect way to do just that.
In June this year she began the process of becoming a Pat Dog volunteer with the aim of regularly taking Joss into the hospital wards to meet patients and help give them a new lease of life. Joss had already proved his caring credentials after visiting residents at care homes in Kingsbridge and Salcombe
But seven months, 83 emails, 28 A4 forms filled in, numerous security checks and visits to the hospital later, Virginia has begun to despair at the wall of red tape which has been thrown in her path and is faced with giving the whole idea up.
‘The red tape has completely and utterly stifled the idea of us going into the hospital. The whole thing has become completely impossible. It has ended like a Laurel and Hardy film,’ said a disappointed Virginia.
‘We would have loved to visit our local hospital. I just can’t believe the red tape involved. To put it into context, my husband occasionally visits the Royal Naval Nuclear Base at Devonport, and has lectured within one hundred yards of one of the nuclear submarines. All they require for access is sight of his driving licence.’
But all was not quite lost, she said. ‘Through the work that John does for injured paras, and the charity ‘Support Our Paras’ that he and I set up which has now raised a total of £4.6 million, we have been asked by ‘Help for Heroes’ to bring Joss to their headquarters at Tedworth House.
‘We will meet some of the paras John has helped. It will be a humbling experience, but I know Joss will do well.’
Virginia lives with husband ex-Army John at Higher Boreston near Halwell and the couple own the Coach House in Totnes in which they used to trade as Country Pine Furniture. Some 15 years ago Virginia suffered serious head injuries following a fall from a barn and ended up with a seven and a half inch plate in her head.
She was treated at Derriford Hospital and then transferred to Totnes Hospital where she was cared for until she was able to go home.
She explained: ‘It was wonderful to be back in my own community again and to see the hills and the outskirts of the town from my hospital bed. Being looked after by people I knew in the more relaxed atmosphere of a smaller hospital did me more good than almost anything else.
‘I shall never forget the kindness of the staff in Totnes, and their concern for me in the weeks it took for me to become fit again.’
Joss is the couple’s sixth Bernese Mountain Dog and he became such a hit visiting care homes the couple decided to say thank you to Totnes Hospital by bringing Joss to meet the patients.
Virginia was asked to attend an interview with the matron. ‘She told me that they had not had a Pat Dog for some years and that they were very keen to have another. We passed that initial interview, with Joss wowing all those he came in contact with.
‘I was really excited,’ Virginia added. ‘I thought it would not be long before Joss was visiting regularly. I was very busy but I told the hospital I could set aside two afternoons a month to devote to visiting.’
That was six month ago. Since then, Virginia said, she had been jumping through hoop after hoop to enable Joss to become a hospital pat dog at Totnes – it has included interviews, security checks, officially registering Joss , putting him through a therapy examination, insurance checks, criminal records check and more interviews.
The last hoop was an induction course that both Virginia would have to attend at Torbay Hospital along with the commitment to attend regular updates on dementia and related subjects.
‘The total of emails generated by the hospital now stands at 83 – with new updates about further induction courses arriving at a rate of about two a week.
‘I have filled in 28 A4 forms and had at least four meetings with various officials.’