07:02 Friday 26 October 2012

Snakes on a train

Written byDale Preece-Kelly

You may have seen this reported in the Newsletter during October, but I have been providing a unique service to commuters in Stafford with my animals.

A few months ago, when Stafford Railway Station noticed one of my Tweets about pet therapy and asked tongue in cheek, “Would it work with commuters?”, my reply was: “I don’t see why not!” I just thought that it was a bit of banter. Trouble is that once I get a thought in my brain, it snowballs! Eventually I developed something, and contacted the Team Leader at Stafford Railway Station – Fiona Main. I told her that I was ready to conduct a trial, and see how well it would be received by Virgin Train’s passengers.

Those trials took place on the 2nd and 11th October. My company, Critterish Allsorts, have an ultimate aim – to take pet therapy to the masses. We want to have its image as an 'alternative' therapy blown away, and have it become a mainstream, prescribed treatment available to all. It can be used to treat all manner of ailments, from arthritis to emotional issues, from serious psychiatric issues to anxiety and depression – not only that, it is a treatment where the only side effect is enrichment.

What better way to take pet therapy to the masses than to provide it where the masses are! And so we embarked on our mission: to help work weary, travel stressed commuters, at the end of their day, relax and destress – leading to more relaxed and ultimately safer onward journeys to their destination. Our hope was that they would arrive home, not only with a story for their family, but also a smile.



As Virgin Trains and the current franchise battle is very much current news, we received a good degree of reportage not just locally, but nationally too. These events have made the main Virgin website, The Telegraph and Passenger Transport Magazine and more than likely will make more over the next week or two.

Public opinion of the events was nothing short of a dream – EVERY comment was positive, every person that sat with the animals left the station with a smile, telling us that we had made their day or week, people used mobile devices to get photos – a lasting memory of an encounter that enriched their daily travel and touched their lives. THIS is what pet therapy does for people, and you don’t have to be ill to benefit from it – you just have to be receptive.

At the second event on 11th October, we even had a student from UCLAN, who is doing her dissertation on “The Effects of Pet Therapy”, taking readings from commuters who experienced the service, both before and after their session. The results were proof perfect that all who took Virgin trains up on the offered service, benefitted in reduced blood pressure and heart rate. Eureka, it works!

The future for this service is very bright, especially with forward thinking organisations like Virgin who love thinking AND more importantly doing things outside the box. If I could wish for a business partnership with any single organisation in the world, then Virgin would be it – Branson is a hero of mine, and working with him (whether directly or indirectly) would be a dream come true. I will now be following up this trial with the aim of getting pet therapy services into every major station in the Virgin franchise. Then expansion, into other areas of passenger transport.

The key to successful pet therapy though is regularity – we need to remain a constant now at the station, lest we become an urban legend in our own lifetime. Travellers recounting tales of “the man with the animals who stood by the door and made commuters smile”. The time has come to change the face of our railway stations and bring more than coffee shops and newsagents to the concourse – lets have an office for the pet therapist and his critters, we can call it 'Smilers': grab a coffee take a seat, sit with an animal and unwind; when you leave instead of baring your teeth in a snarl, they will be shining in your smile!

All images taken by Elizabeth Fleming.

Critterish Allsorts undertake animal assisted therapy sessions, with their critters (who are all family pets), on an individual or group basis in your home, hospital, care home, foster home, or school. Visit their website for more information.

This blog is written by Dale Preece-Kelly from Critterish Allsorts, if you would like to find out more about them check out our previous article 'Meet the Critterish Allsorts'.
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