NEVER work with children or animals, so the old theatre saying goes. But animals can so often bring a great deal of joy, laughter and peace to people – and the Therapets programme aims to do just that.
It has been acknowledged for some time now that, despite what the saying above implies, contact with an animal can be therapeutic and beneficial. The mere action of stroking a dog can slow the heartbeat and reduce blood pressure – leading to a sense of calm and improved wellbeing. For people who have been have been deprived of the company of an animal - for example, those in long –term or residential care – the loss of that emotional attachment or even companionship can be very hard to deal with. But Therapets aims to combat that by taking the animals direct to the people.
The Canine Concern Scotland Trust, established in 1988, set up the Therapet service to promote the therapeutic value of dogs to patients or anyone isolated from normal association with pets. With the motto “we care for dogs and dogs care for us”, the trust also seeks to encourage responsible dog ownership via its education programme and to further the role of dogs in Scotland.
Pet owners undertake a short training programme with their animals and then visit individuals or facilities in their area on a regular basis – providing that much – missed and very comforting contact with a furry, friendly face.
Locally, Therapets have been delighting the residents of Ashgrove Care Home in Dunoon for some time. One volunteer is 19-year-old Jennifer MacAnna who, along with her canine companions Kara or Chilli, visits residents at the home every Wednesday for up to an hour and a half. Last week the Standard was invited along to see Kara and Jennifer in action. She said: “I saw the Therapets service advertised at Crufts and thought it would be a good thing to do. I did a training course with Dunarg School for Dogs and have been coming to Ashgrove for two months. It’s really good seeing the interaction between the dogs and the residents and the difference that it can make in their lives.”
Ashgrove manager Kathy Watson agreed: “It’s fabulous to see how happy it makes the residents. It brings back memories of having their own pets and the dogs never fail to bring a smile to everyone’s face.”
Kay Towers, 103, who lives at Ashgrove, said: “It gives me so much pleasure to see the dogs each week. – I love animals.” After another cuddle with Kara, she added: “Can I keep her for Christmas?” Kara, an 11-year-old Blue Merle Rough Collie, most often accompanies Jennifer to Ashgrove, but her other Collie - Chilli – is also trained and carries out Therapet duties.
From the moment Jennifer and Kara arrived in Ashgrove’s comfortable communal lounge, it was clear to see from the smiling faces how popular the Therapets’ visits are. Kara clearly happy to give and receive lots of affection and belying her 11 years, was calm, quiet and friendly – and residents obviously loved being able to pat her and give her a hug. But as well as enjoying Kara’s company, it was obvious that the Ashgrove residents were happy to chat with Jennifer too.
Judging by the smiles on faces and queues for canine cuddles, the Therapets are definitely achieving what they set out to do – cheering and caring. Locally, instructors at Dunarg School for Dogs are the area assessors for the Therapet Service.
Words by Aileen MacNicol from an article in the Dunoon Observer 201O