Member of the month – July 21

Name: Jane
Area: Somerset
Dogs: Miika, Emmi and Jaana

I have always loved all animals, but dogs are my particular favourite. When I was a small child, we had a Norwegian Elkhound followed by a Finnish Spitz. My husband, Mark, and I fell in love with Samoyeds when we saw them at a dog show in Bath on a day out – from that point on all I wanted was a Samoyed and it was not long before we welcomed the cutest puppy into our home. Over the years we had four Samoyeds, losing the last one 16 years ago and at that point in time we were both working long hours and did not feel it was right to get a puppy.

In the meantime, we were on holiday and spending a day in Helsinki. Mark spotted a gentleman sitting on a wall with his dog. Mark spent some time chatting with him and found out that the dog was a Finnish Lapphund. Was this to be our next dog when the time was right? Well, searching around we found out that it was not going to be easy to get one as they were quite rare in the UK.

A few years on and our lives had changed to a point that I was no longer working long hours and in fact had plans afoot to cut down my work even more in preparation for retirement. We made contact with some breeders in the UK and visited dog shows to meet the breed and get ourselves known. We were told it could be a two year wait. However, within a couple of months one of the breeders contacted us and offered us a puppy from her next litter in just a few months. Later that year we welcomed Miika to our family.

They do say that very few people remain a one Lappy family and we were certainly not one of them – it was not long before we welcomed Emmi and then Jaana to our home.

All three dogs attended obedience and ring craft training and one evening I was chatting to a lady whose dog was a therapy dog. It sounded just perfect for Emmi. Emmi was assessed and soon became a therapy dog for another charity, but it wasn’t long before we had to resign due to their new protocol. I was so distressed about this and immediately turned to Facebook to have a rant. Another Lappy lady contacted me and told me about Canine Concern. I immediately contacted Valerie and she accepted Emmi within the week so we were able to make our next visit to the care home without missing a step.

It was not long before we had Miika and Jaana assessed and approved and then they took it in turns to attend the two care homes we visit. They love their visits and when I would extract the special blue Canine Concern lead and ID tags from the drawer, they would all get so excited but as soon as I announced whose turn it was the other two would get into their beds and wait for their goodbye treat.

I have to admit I do find the visits both exhilarating and sometimes emotionally taxing. The homes we visit have end of life residents and I love getting to know them – they truly do become my friends and to lose them is upsetting but as volunteers we have to remember the joy our dogs and our visits bring to these people. We visited one lady who told me as we were leaving her room that earlier in the morning she didn’t want to carry on, but after our visit she felt so much better and was ready to get dressed and start her day.  Another lady who never spoke started to sing to Emmi when she ran her fingers through Emmi’s coat.

One thing we have noticed with Emmi is that she seems to know when she is approached by someone with mental health issues. Emmi is quite a lively dog but when she meets someone with autism or similar, she immediately becomes calm, she doesn’t make eye contact with them and she, somehow, appears to make herself seem smaller. We have had visitors to the house with children who are frightened of dogs but within a short space of time they are cuddling and playing with our three.

Of our three, Emmi is the one who loves to learn new things. While the other two passed their Silver KC Good Citizen Award, Emmi went further and passed the Gold. She loves showing the residents her favourite ‘tricks’ – for me she has been such a help, picking up things I dropped when my back issues have meant I couldn’t bend down. She has even helped take the washing out of the washing machine and tumble dryer.

Jaana is our smaller girl, she is much quieter than Emmi. Jaana was imported from Sweden and sadly arrived with some issues with unknown dogs, but she adores people and especially children; she was the first one who was allowed on the beds at the homes. Jaana does not need to be asked twice if she wants to get on a bed! Once a cover is placed on the bed she’s up. On one visit a dear elderly lady who adored dogs was so excited about our visit, she was dressed and waiting on the end of her bed for us. As soon as we entered her room she squealed with excitement and invited Jaana onto her bed. Unfortunately, in her excitement she grabbed Jaana around her neck and squeezed tight. Jaana, bless her, just looked to me for help, I gently released the ladies fingers and softly reminded her to be gentle which she did. However, this shows how important it is that your dog has the right temperament and nature to be a therapy dog.

Miika was always our laid-back, calm boy – although he would get very excited when we approached the homes, once inside he became the ultimate professional. Mind you he knew which of the residents he could persuade to give up their biscuits! It was a very proud day when we found a lovely photo of Miika with a resident in one of the lounges at the home and on another occasion, we were all included in their monthly newsletter.

We were both devastated when Miika was diagnosed with Lymphoma in November 2019. He started chemotherapy but had to stop visiting the care homes and dog shows due to the risk of infection. The chemotherapy worked very quickly and Miika went into remission within a month. His chemo finished in April 2020, and we were ready to restart our visits but of course Covid put the kibosh on that. Sadly, Miika’s cancer returned in September 2020, and he never did make it back to his visits. Miika passed away early March this year. We are still struggling with the loss of our dear, precious boy.

I decided that I wanted to do something in Miika’s memory, so I started a fundraiser on Facebook in Miika’s name for Canine Concern. Miika was very well known in the breed due to his loving nature and his clown antics in the show ring. However, I was overwhelmed with the response to his fundraiser which raised £1,046.

We are still not back to visiting the homes yet but hopefully we will hear from them soon to recommence our visits.

Canine Concern Comments

Jane, along with her lovely Finnish Lapphunds, has been a fantastic asset to Canine Concern. When we first saw the photos for their ID badges, we fell in love with their lovely, happy, smiling looks. They are perfect dogs for this work, making so many people incredibly happy. Jane has even been asked to do a promotion for a national housing company who had very kindly given the charity a donation. All these donations will help keep the charity visiting people in the community for years to come. We all need a dog cuddle now and again, especially from a lovely Finnish Lapphund.