Throughout England and Wales, many dog owners are bringing joy and reassurance into the lives of the elderly and the vulnerable. KL magazine looks at the inspirational work of Canine Concern…
To many people their dog is their most precious possession – and to be taken away from it is their greatest loss. The late Eve Waring of Somerset (and great dog
lover herself) understood this all too well, and in 1988 she set out to bring
dogs back into the lives of the elderly and lonely, the healthy or poorly, with
regular visits by dog-loving volunteers.
Eve founded Canine Concern, a group that now has many pet owner volunteers throughout England and Wales, each of whom give a few hours of their time to reach out (with the help of their dogs) to the vulnerable.
They visit care homes, hospitals and hospices where the mood of the room is immediately lightened by the arrival of a canine visitor. Barriers are broken down, hands are outstretched to stroke and pat, and where there was silence the room becomes animated with laughter and conversation.
The dog’s reward is simple enjoyment of the cuddles – and a treat or two. Retired teacher Wendy Cox of King’s Lynn joined Canine Concern 11 years ago, and with her Golden Retrievers Phoebe and Hattie she makes visits to a care home and sheltered
As Wendy chats about the work of the charity she demonstrates the fitting of the smart blue coats the dogs wear.
“As soon as they have their coats on they’re in work mode,” she says.Assist Dogs are employed in many walks of life, and Canine Concern volunteers are currently visiting hospitals, care homes, hospices, universities, County Courts and prisons to share (for a short time at least) their own joy in canine companionship.
In February 2018 Canine Concern became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation but, as its founder saw it, its aim is to remain a friendly support group who reach out to people through their dogs. It has no wish to become over-expanded.
A particular philosophy of Eve Waring was that in the education of children in the care of dogs, we might go a long way to preventing the proliferation of unwanted dogs and some associated behavioural problems.
As well as giving talks and demonstrations to Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scouts, Canine Concern volunteers are being invited into schools and libraries to talk about dog care.
As part of the Kennel Club’s ‘Bark and Read’ scheme, Canine Concern volunteers now take their dogs into schools as reading support. The children get to know the dogs, and by stroking them their stress levels are lowered. This works very well with
students who may have experienced tension when reading aloud in a classroom. By reading to a dog they relax and focus on what they’re reading. The exercise becomes associated with something pleasant and they gain confidence.
Some children will show pictures to the dog whilst explaining what they are – and instances have been recorded where a child may well tell a dog about problems they’re having at home or in class. After all, they know they will not be judged.
One step on from schools, dogs can now be seen visiting universities. Research has shown that the act of stroking dogs can be a calming factor reducing stress, blood pressure and anxiety – and a scheme has been piloted in Oxford Lincoln College where simply having a dog around for a short spell helps anxious students to relax and return to their studies smiling.
Of course, not all people are comfortable around dogs. Some may have had a bad experience in the past or simply not had the opportunity to meet them in the right environment.
A better understanding is often all that’s needed to break down this anxiety.
Some places have been a dog-free zone for many years and it’s taken patience and understanding to convince them of the benefits a behavioural-assessed dog adds to the wellbeing of people deprived of the buoyancy that a dog brings to a room.
In her capacity as a Canine Concern co-ordinator/assessor, Wendy says “All dogs are fully assessed as to their suitability to visit establishments. This is done by observing the dog and owner in different environments to confirm their suitability. Beginning in a safe outside area, we move on to a quiet enclosed space and then finally to an environment similar to where they’ll be visiting. The idea is to assess the dog’s limits. If at any stage it’s considered inadvisable to continue, the assessment will be stopped.”
Canine Concern likes to tackle areas where volunteers, together with their canine companions, can bring understanding to those who have never known the affection and trust that exists between dog and human.
Whilst to others who, through no fault of their own, find themselves deprived of this affection, the joy experienced in a volunteer’s visit is immeasurable.
KL Magazine March 2019