Smiles all round
As the owner of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, I am always trying to do my best to change the breed’s negative reputation,” said Steph Hartley, from Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, who recognised that her pup, even at five months old, had something special about him.
“When I brought Romeo home for the first time, after adopting him from a family who could no longer keep him, he was introduced to my mother’s Dachshunds — one of whom had cancer at the time. For a puppy who was bouncy and full of energy, he was extremely calm and gentle around them from the start,” recalled Steph.
Romeo’s calm temperament is not something you’d typically expect of such a young dog, although he wasn’t just relaxed around other dogs. Steph quickly noticed that he also behaved well around her 95-year-old grandmother. “Romeo was my nan’s best friend,” said Steph. “She would beg me to bring him to see her. This is what gave me the idea to get Romeo registered as a Pets As Therapy dog, so he would be allowed in to see my nan in the care home. Sadly, she passed away before he qualified, but she would have been so proud.”
In order to become a registered Pets As Therapy dog, Romeo had to undergo a temperament test to see how he’d react around different environments, people, and noise. “You receive the criteria for the assessment beforehand,” explained Steph. “The test then takes place in a public area to make sure your dog is calm, and will sit quietly and not jump up while you’re having a conversation with someone.
“They then let off an unexpected noise, which in our case was a tin can being dropped on the ground — it made me jump but Romeo didn’t even flinch. The only thing I was slightly worried about was the location, which was in a park right next to a basketball and tennis court. Romeo is ball-mad so I was thinking ‘Oh no!’, but it didn’t faze him at all; he flew through it.”
EVERYONE’S BEST FRIEND
Romeo now makes regular visits to hospitals and care homes to provide comfort to the patients and residents in their care. He’s a favourite among both patients and medical staff.
“He absolutely adores being a therapy dog. As soon as I get his uniform out, he immediately knows what it means and he gets really excited, wags his tail, and runs around in circles and barks,” said Steph. “The residents love him too; he really brings them out of their shells, and some of the dementia patients actually remember who he is, and are always asking when he is coming back.”
Romeo makes a lasting impression on everyone he meets; he has even helped the niece and nephew of Steph’s partner overcome their phobia of dogs.
“Mimi and Sidney were both petrified of dogs; they would cross the road if they saw a dog before they met Romeo,” said Steph. “He was so good with them. He would greet them, but if they were frightened, he would leave them alone. It wasn’t long before they warmed to him. He got them over their fear completely — so much so that they’ve persuaded their mum to get them a dog of their own! If I don’t bring Romeo when I go and visit them now, they are very disappointed.”
As if Romeo hadn’t displayed his valiant efforts enough, he has also helped to save the lives of other dogs through blood donations at the Queen Mother Animal Hospital in Hatfield, and has recently made his 10th contribution.
Steph registered Romeo as a blood donor two years ago, after chatting to the veterinary nurses during regular visits to the hospital when her mother’s Dachshund was receiving cancer treatment. Romeo matched the criteria and was the right weight, age, and temperament to be a donor.
“He now donates every three to four months, and has helped to save the lives of many dogs, including a Springer Spaniel who underwent a heart bypass. It’s nice to find out which dogs he has helped through his donations,” said Steph. “He’s really calm when he’s donating; lots of the dogs lie on their sides but Romeo sits up, smiling, wanting cuddles; he’s so good.”
A TRUE HERO
Romeo has achieved more than most dogs ever will in their lifetimes, and his heroic deeds have now been recognised by a panel of judges, including animal enthusiast Chris Packham, who awarded him with the Blue Cross Pet Hero medal.
“I was so proud when I got the news that he had been chosen as the winner. I just couldn’t believe it; it just emphasises what a wonderful dog he is,” said Steph.
“He loved all the extra attention he got when receiving the award. He was showing off like you wouldn’t believe, doing tricks and wanting his tummy tickled. He just loves having his photo taken.”
Although, Steph explained, Romeo is very different when he gets home: “He’s as mad as a hatter. He brings me every one of his toys and runs around like a nutcase; he’s such a character.”