Trainee buddy dog ‘lifts spirits’ by visiting NHS staff on COVID ward at Royal Bolton Hospital

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 21st April 2021

NHS staff at Royal Bolton Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit were recently treated to a surprise visitor to lift their spirits after a gruelling shift.

There’s no denying that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taken a physical and mental toll on frontline workers up and down the country, but luckily, staff at Royal Bolton Hospital had some emotional support provided by a recent visit from Mason – a Yellow Labrador cross Golden Retriever from Guide Dogs’ Atherton-based training centre.

Due to a lack of confidence when making certain decisions, “gentle dog” Mason sadly wasn’t suitable for becoming a guide dog and is now training for the new role as a buddy dog for a child with a vision impairment instead.

Mason is currently being looked after by Sarah Thornton who, alongside her busy role in the intensive care unit at the hospital, also fosters for Guide Dogs in her free time, and has found that coming home to Mason after stressful and difficult shifts working during the ongoing pandemic has been a real comfort to her.

So, after seeking the relevant permissions, Sarah decided to take Mason into the hospital to let her colleagues have a much-needed cuddle too.


“Staff morale on the critical care wards has been hit hard by COVID.” Sarah said.

“Lots of people have died leaving a big psychological impact on staff wellbeing [so] to be able to take Mason in has been invaluable.


“It’s what the staff really needed”.

Sarah’s colleague Neal Ashurst, who works as an Operating Department Practitioner on the unit, described Mason’s visit as “the best day at work”.

Guide Dogs

Once restrictions are lifted later in the year, Mason will be able to progress on his journey to becoming a buddy dog and be matched to a child with a vision impairment – but in the meantime, he is making a significant difference to the happiness of many people.


Buddy dogs help children with a vision impairment to enjoy the benefits of having a well-behaved dog. While they are not a mobility aid, they do help to build confidence and lead to better relationships with others, as well as greater wellbeing.

Some children with a vision impairment can lack confidence, which has a knock-on effect to other areas of development, so having a buddy dog by their side can help them to thrive, and children gain a sense of independence by taking responsibility for the care of the dog, completing activities like grooming, and feeding with the help of their family.

Verity De-Winton – Support Dog Lead at Guide Dogs – said: “Buddy dogs help to transform a child’s life.

“Parents report seeing remarkable changes in their children’s confidence and behaviour. 

“Children who have previously been shy cannot wait to get out of the house with a buddy dog by their side”.

Featured Image – Guide Dogs