St Luke's Hospice recruits Comet the Labrador

Image caption The 18-month-old Labrador's condition means he is "mildly uncoordinated" and quiet

A Devon hospice's newest "teenage" member of staff is proving a big hit with patients.

Comet, a chocolate Labrador, was bred as a hearing dog for the deaf but failed to make the grade because of brain disorder.

Instead, the 18-month-old with "big floppy ears" is used as pet therapy at St Luke's Hospice in Plymouth.

Volunteers take Comet around the in-patient unit at Turnchapel so that he can spend time with the patients.

Comet is not the first animal to be part of St Luke's team.

'Joy and comfort'

The hospice previously had a resident cat called Ollie, whom staff described as a source of "both entertainment and great comfort" to patients.

"When Ollie passed away he was sorely missed by patients and staff alike, so the search for a new suitable pet began," said a member of staff.

Plymouth vet and animal behaviourist Caroline Bowyer recommended Comet after hearing about him from her husband John, who is also a vet and a trustee of the Hearings Dogs Charity.

Comet has cerebellar hypoplasia meaning he is mildly uncoordinated and quieter than the average Labrador, which Mrs Bowyer thought, along with his previous training, would make him an "ideal" hospice dog.

Image caption When Comet is not "on duty" he lives with senior receptionist Jenny Nicol

"I had previously cared for Ollie the hospice cat and know what a massive difference animals can make to the patients in a hospice," Mrs Bowyer said.

"It may seem strange to have an animal in a clinical environment, but it really is so therapeutic for the patients and to see the joy and comfort an animal can bring is truly amazing."

The hospice said that when Comet is on the wards patients reminisce about dogs they have owned while he sits patiently "enjoying the limelight".

When not "on duty", the Labrador lives with St Luke's senior receptionist Jenny Nicol.

She said: "He will offer his paw in return for a biscuit and loves to be petted - of course being a Labrador he will do anything for a treat."

She added: "There are a lot of perceptions about what a hospice environment is like. Of course there are sad times but Comet is a fine example of some of reasons why it can also be such a special and happy place to be."

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