An Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) programme designed to promote improvements in physical, social, emotional and/or cognitive functioning

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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize and, based on its description, I am eligible to apply:

  • Yes, I’m eligible
  • Yes, I’m 18 years old or older

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend:

  • Additional Skype interview(s) during the week of March 16-20th 2020
  • The Purina BetterwithPets Forum in Paris, on 3-4th of June 2020

Initiative's representative name

Niamh Carwood

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • United Kingdom

Headquarters location: city


Where are you making a difference?


Website or social media url(s)

Date Started

June 2012

Focus Areas

  • Fostering emotional intelligence and behavioural competences
  • Promote inclusivity
  • Enhance physical activity and wellness
  • Re-imagining the role of pets in society

What is your current yearly budget for the initiative? If you are an idea stage, what early budget you would need to kick-off and run operations in your first year?

  • €50k - €100k

Organisation Type

  • nonprofit/NGO: an organisation that uses its resources to achieve a purpose outside of creating profit

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

At Mayhew we have always understood the intrinsic value of animals in society & the invaluable comfort & companionship they provide in the best & worst of times. Our TheraPaws™ programme uses & promotes this therapeutic use of dogs. It came into existence in 2012 when we realised we could spread the joy we know dogs bring, to those in our communities who need it most such, e.g. elderly living in care homes. We also realised that many care facilities do not allow residents to have permanent pets. TheraPaws™ involves our volunteers visiting healthcare venues across London to engage with the elderly &/or cognitively impaired (e.g. dementia sufferers), stroke survivors, cancer patients & those suffering from mental health issues.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

In the UK, more than 400,000 older people live in care homes; this is set to increase with an ageing population. For residents in care homes there are a range of issues that impact on quality of life, e.g. need for meaningful activities which facilitate engagement, interaction & a sense of wellbeing. Therapists also tell us that many children in mental health centres do not open up to traditional therapy & have trouble interacting & opening up.

3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Research shows Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) can reduce levels of stress, promote social behaviour & improve physical & emotional health & wellbeing. TheraPaws™ is our AAI programme that is designed to promote improvements in physical, social, emotional &/or cognitive functioning. Our team of 50+ volunteers & their dogs visit ~40 health & care venues on a weekly basis, (care homes, hospitals, hospices, mental health centres (CAMHS and adults), SEN schools etc.) with visits lasting between 60 – 90 minutes. Beneficiaries have the opportunity to interact with the dog & volunteer on a 1:1 basis or in a group setting. Beneficiaries can spend time with the dog, stroking, playing, teaching the dog or simply having a chat; visits are designed to offer a non-judgemental outlet for communication. Dogs act as a catalyst for conversation & this help improves communication &social skills of people living in/being treated at a health/care facility. Additionally our dog visits act as a ‘gateway’ therapy to traditional therapies, getting children to open up to other forms of therapy that they have found difficult in the past. We regularly visit venues in 17 boroughs across London.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

AAI is a burgeoning area of alternative therapy. There are few charities offering this service in London; we are one of the organisations pioneering AAI with dogs to great effect & for free. TheraPaws™ is a member of Animal Assisted Intervention International (AAII), an international organisation of professionals from health & social care & education sectors. We run the programme as part of a well-established & respected animal welfare charity, with expert knowledge of dog behaviour & welfare. Our impact has also been studied in collaboration with Middlesex University. This research will contribute to the growing pool of studies proving that animals in a therapeutic role are extremely beneficial.

5. How does your project harness the pet-human bond to help people develop important social competencies (For example: emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, resilience, inclusivity) and overcome serious societal issues (for example: violence, abuse, trauma, isolation, abandonment)?

Dogs offer unconditional love without looking for anything in return. Sessions with dogs provide a break from a perhaps solitary day-to-day routine & give something to look forward to regularly. The presence of dogs’ sparks conversations & creates relationships not only between dogs & participants, but also with our volunteers. We see: • Improved emotional wellbeing: - The dogs’ presence enables emotional expression/improvement of emotional intelligence from reading non-verbal cues - Mood levels improve; focus is detracted from negative thoughts/emotions - Decreased feelings of isolation • Improved interpersonal relationships: - Presence of a dog encourages the building of human-human relationships - Dogs help to establish feelings of trust - Communication & social skills are improved from companionship, comfort & calmness the dog provides • Improvement of self-esteem & confidence: - A dog provides non-judgmental, unconditional love - A dog will accept a person no matter what - A dog is a natural stress-buster; the human-animal bond reduces cortisol levels & encourages oxytocin release • Increased recall of memories for those suffering from cognitive impairment.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

Our research with Middlesex University, on the benefits of animal assisted activities on elderly people living in a care home, was very successful showing a 12% increase in self-assessed quality of life as a result of our intervention. We also gather feedback from care staff, volunteers & beneficiaries. We are currently working on a standardised feedback form across the whole programme. This will help us monitor impact internally & will help Middlesex University with further research they are undertaking with us: the benefits of our visits on children in a mental health setting. We offer alternative therapy, helping to get people to engage with more traditional therapy which has a large impact for healthcare facilities, enabling staff to effectively reach their patients. This social impact is extended by demonstrating the transformative role that dogs can play in society.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

Focus for 2020 will be to continue to expand, specifically growing our reach in visits to mental health services in London with children & adults. In 2019 86% of visits were to the elderly; we aim to end 2020 on a more even split, with the majority of mental health visits to CAMHS venues. We will continue to expand to visit all areas of London, reaching across more boroughs and we will continue to, and step up, offering accredited training for staff and training for volunteers. As AAI grows we need to ensure our expertise & research is at the forefront, leaders in the field in the UK.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

AAI is by definition a ‘complementary’ therapy & can only be conducted in conjunction with qualified healthcare professionals. TheraPaws™ provides patient benefit that could relieve day to day staff pressure. Many patients, particularly children, find it hard to open up to traditional therapy. Our visits act as a ‘gateway’ therapy, creating value for healthcare staff, enabling them to more effectively reach their patients with other therapies. The visits we conduct are free, meaning we reach groups that will value our service the most but who don’t always have the budget. We are also planning on creating open community activities that will add benefit to all, e.g. a TheraPaws™ Community Café & organising TheraPaws™ walks.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

TheraPaws™ is a part of the wider charity body of Mayhew. Our charity is and always will be funded by public donations and legacies and therefore is how TheraPaws™ is majority funded and has been sustainably funded for the 8 years it has been running. TheraPaws™ is a free service for the healthcare services we visit. On the side of these main visits, we offer corporate visits to businesses to combat workplace stress. These visits are done in return for a donation to Mayhew & are limited to 2 a month, so as not to take volunteers away from the core work, but still help us to fundraise & spread awareness. To strike more of a balance in our income streams we will also be applying for other grants.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Our full time Project Coordinator has with years of experience with dogs & behaviour. She has 3 OCN (Open College Network) qualifications, including membership of Institute of Modern Dog Training, Canine Behaviour Training Technician & Canine Training Instructor. She is supported by our Head of Animal Welfare, who has 25+ years’ experience in animal welfare, and is part of the wider team of 5 Animal Welfare Officers who operate Mayhew’s other community outreach programmes.

11. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize?

We would be able to liaise further with Middlesex University to publish more research in the AAI field. We plan to conduct more research on our work with children & mental health. Proving the benefits here will enable us, & other organisations, to use AAI with children at the start of any issues they are experiencing. This helps to provide these children with better tools to combat negative mental health as they grow into integrated adults in society. In turn this promotes the benefits companion animals to the public, helping our organisation to create a society where people understand the importance & value of animal welfare. Purina would help TheraPaws™ continue to be a leader in the AAI field & to expand to reach more people in need.

12. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Article in the news
  • Email

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

One of our volunteer teams, Flick and Lulu, visit an eating disorder unit on a weekly basis, made up of majority teenage patients. On their first visit the teens were happy to interact, but it was noted that no one wanted to offer Lulu any treats, due to their association with food. After 6 months of weekly visits, interacting with Lulu, opening up and becoming more confident, they now will talk openly about food and will use treats when interacting with Lulu, even forming the running joke of “Be more like Lulu, only work for food”. We also have dog and volunteer teams visit and inpatient CAMHS unit for 8-13 year olds. We had only just started our visits at this venue and after just 3 months a young girl came up to one of our volunteers and said “You have helped me go home. I will never forget my therapy dog.” After just a short amount of time, she attributed her discharge to our visits with the dogs.

14. Mutual Benefit: Explain how your project mutually benefits the pets involved – how is the pet not only used as tool?

The welfare is the dog is always of paramount importance to us as an animal welfare charity. TheraPaws™ visits provide mental stimulation and support emotional bonds between the volunteer and their dog. Volunteers often feedback to us that they want to give back to society; by taking part in TheraPaws™ they are able to do this and they are spending quality time with their dog, doing something that benefits all involved. Dog and owner are able to spend quality time strengthening bonds. The dogs get a lot of positive stimulation from visits, being able to work for food and treats, being able to play lots and get strokes and cuddles. We always make sure it is an enjoyable experience for the dogs, ensuring that we monitor temperature (i.e. if it is too hot visits will not happen), timing of the visits (not too long to make sure the dog doesn’t get too tired) and group size, so no dog is overwhelmed.

15. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

We differ in that we are part of a wider animal welfare charity that runs several outreach programmes, therefore with an understanding of the needs of our community & welfare of dogs. We have been running the programme for 8 years. We have built a solid foundation using AAI with the elderly, enabling us to use that established ground to expand into mental health, knowing what works. We have been running longer than most other similar programmes & we visit a higher number of people/venues. We focus on the professionalism of our volunteers & growing research opportunities into the benefits of the programme. We fully support the ~50 volunteers we have, providing them (& staff) with relevant training opportunities. Staff regularly attend visits with volunteers to ensure they are doing well & to confirm the dogs are happy, safe & still suitable for the programme. All of our volunteers are encouraged to integrate with other Mayhew volunteers, creating a whole charity volunteer community.

16. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project.

We partner with NHS healthcare facilities & are looking to extend to working with all of the NHS CAMHS units across all of London, adult mental health facilities & private healthcare venues providing mental health services, (private healthcare services still work under the guidelines of the NHS). In the future we are looking to establish partnerships with national mental health charities such as Mind. We partner with organisations that are helping to turn people’s lives around, such as The Westminster Drug Project (WDP). This encourages its’ service users to become more involved with WDP services to integrate successfully back into society. We work on building & maintaining these partnerships, ensuring professionalism & that we are delivering an effective service. We are focussing on the above listed collaborations, as these are the places where we feel we will have the most impact: helping children from a young age & vulnerable adults, having a transformative effect on society.

17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

The research with Middlesex University is being peer reviewed for publication. This has also opened up additional funding opportunities, with people becoming more interested in TheraPaws™ due to the proven 12% increase in self-assessed quality of life following our interventions. Mayhew’s patron, the Duchess of Sussex, chose our organisation because of the community work we do & has met TheraPaws™ service users. TheraPaws™ was nominated for a Special Recognition Award.

18. Your Self-Elevator Pitch (OPTIONAL): Share a 1-minute video that shares a quick summary of the problem you would like to solve, how you’ve chosen to solve it, and the impact you hope to see.

19. Financial Sustainability (OPTIONAL): Please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project, include an attached document with your detailed business plan or other equivalent information. (This information will NOT be shared with your fellow contestant, it will only be visible to you and internal Prize reviewers).

Funds are sourced from public donations/legacies, the majority of Mayhew’s income. This gives us a good amount of unrestricted funding, but we wish to strike more of a balance in income streams. Trust funding is an area that has potential; Trusts are increasingly interested in TheraPaws™ due to the research with Middlesex University. Corporate visits help to top up funds. Focus is always on professionalising the project, so we continue to offer relevant training to our staff & continue to pursue research opportunities. Both these things open up avenues for funding. Our Project Coordinator is undertaking a certification in Animal Assisted Play Therapy, which is run by the organisation that owns the ‘Animal Assited Play Therapy’ trademark & so the only organisation able to provide certification. This training is usually used by therapists wanting to use dogs themselves; our approach is making sure we are well versed in the area so we can pass on the knowledge to the NHS staff we visit.

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Does this entry have potential to GROW & demonstrate LEADERSHIP?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. Is this entry VIABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%


Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 66.7%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

7. FEEDBACK – Highlights

INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions or used an old model in a new way - 33.3%

IMPACT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 100%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: You have a thoughtful plan for growth and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 33.3%

VIABIBLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You value thinking around how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 0%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: You have a clearly defined plan on how to maximize shared value across multiple sectors and stakeholders - 33.3%

WRITING STYLE: Your writing style is concise, descriptive, clear, and specific - 0%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK - Areas for Improvement

INNOVATION: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 0%

IMPACT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 0%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 0%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: Your plan can benefit from more thought on how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 0%

WRITING STYLE: Try to be more concise, descriptive, clear, and specific. Avoid jargon - 100%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 100%

Other option - 0%


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