One Wigan man and his dog are helping people feel better
An army medic who spent 25 years serving around the world is continuing to make a difference - with help from his four-legged friend.
Mike Mills, who lives in Ashton, left the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1987 after being made redundant.
Other news: Wigan family's delight as their stolen pug puppy is returnedHe said: “I was classed as a combat medic. I went all over the world in support of other units in the armed forces. I enjoyed every minute.
“I was looking after the health and welfare of all the troops wherever we were in the world. It was also a lot of hearts and minds work with the local population.”
Now 72 years old, Mike volunteers on the reception at Wigan Borough Armed Forces HQ, the hub which opened on School Lane last year to provide support and services for current and former military personnel.
He said: “Like most of the volunteers, I help out when needed in other areas. At the minute I do one full day a week and just fill in on the other days if they are short of staff and need other things doing.”
Mike is currently working with the NHS on a project focused on the health needs of members of the armed forces and their families.
And he is also playing a part in helping those who have served their country - along with his dog, a five-year-old border terrier named Ty.
Mike said: “I got her when she was one year old from a family that couldn’t keep her anymore and have had her since. She is lovely.”
Ty is not just his pet though - she has not had any formal training, but she is making a real difference as a therapy dog.
Mike said: “When I go to the veterans’ hub on a Friday, when they have breakfast, bacon butties and cups of tea and banter, she works very well with people who have PTSD.
“She is very good at reducing stress levels. Within 10 or 15 minutes of somebody with PTSD picking her up and stroking her, their stress levels come right down. It’s very relaxing for them. She’s very good at that.”
After seeing the way Ty is around people, including when they meet children in the street, Mike thought she could be a therapy dog.
Ty’s calming nature has now led to her visiting Wigan Infirmary to meet young patients treated on the Rainbow ward.
If the child and their parent consent, Ty approaches the patient and they can pat, cuddle, play and talk to her.
Mike and Ty also spend time reading stories with a small group of children.
Mike said: “I think being a patient on a ward, from my own experience, is quite daunting and it can also be quite boring.
“I imagine for the children they get very miserable because they don’t have their friends and the same toys to play with like they have at home, they don’t see their parents all day every day.
“I think having a pet on the ward is a bit of a relief for them. It’s something totally different, it gives them a little bit of a boost and makes them feel happy I hope. I takes their mind off their illness.”
The pair have popped into the unit twice recently and spent time with the youngsters.
And they could soon become regular visitors to the ward after being a real hit.
Mike said: “The staff there said they couldn’t believe it. They thought she was an old hand at it.
“I intend to go back on a regular basis but haven’t worked out how regularly yet, probably twice a week.”
Ty has certainly proved to be popular with both the children and members of the armed forces.
Mike, who has a daughter living in Florida, said: “It’s just the way she is. She approaches people with her tail wagging, she is full of enthusiasm, she looks as if she really wants to be with you and have fun.”
He believes being a therapy dog is something that comes naturally to Ty.
“I think animals in general, especially dogs and possibly horses, have a built-in instinct in knowing when someone is not quite right,” he said.
Ty’s new vocation looks set to keep both her and Mike busy, but he remains committed to other voluntary work too.
He is a member of Lowton, Golborne and Ashton Mencap Society and has agreed to wear the famous red and white suit as guest of honour at the group’s Christmas party.
He is also chairman of the patient participation group at his local GP practice.
Mike, who spent eight years working for the Alzheimer’s Society, is keen to help other people.
He said: “I think it’s my mind-set. When I joined the Army in 1963 I started off in the infantry and suddenly realised I had made the wrong choice and transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps.
“Everything I have done since then, whether by accident or design, has been involved with health and social care of the staff.
“I suppose it’s in my blood really.”