Canterbury’s finest four-legged fur-friends are bringing joy to older people with a new type of home visit.
Companions on Paws, a new service from Age Concern Canterbury, matches older people across Christchurch with a suitable canine companion and their owner to visit them in their home.
Bev Mason, Project Coordinator at Age Concern Canterbury, says this is a unique service for older pet lovers who may be feeling isolated and lonely in their home and unable to own a pet again.
“There are some very popular pet visiting services already in place where therapy dogs visit people in hospitals and aged residential care, but we know there are lots of older people isolated in their own homes who would really benefit from a canine companion.
“They’re animal lovers who have probably owned pets before, and a visit from a pet provides real connection and joy.”
Companions on Paws is an extension of Age Concern’s visiting and host services, which see older people visited in their homes by an Age Concern volunteer, or a volunteer hosts people in their homes for morning or afternoon tea.
Linda Cowan was one of the first volunteers to take part in the service, visiting elderly neighbour Margaret once a week with her dog Lewis.
“I’d seen Margaret walking around before and I knew her face, but we hadn’t really talked.”
Margaret became deaf very suddenly, so didn’t have time to adjust, or learn to lip read or sign. This meant she quickly became cut off from the world.
As an existing client of Age Concern Canterbury and with a love of all animals, 88-year-old Margaret was quickly identified as the perfect candidate for Companions on Paws and was matched with neighbour Linda.
Linda said: “Lewis and I visit Margaret once a week for 30 minutes, which is a nice amount of time because it’s not too much for either of them. Margaret has a routine planned out for Lewis’ visits, she’ll put her feet up, and put a sheepskin on her lap, and Lewis will jump up and sit there.
“As soon as he has his Companion on Paws scarf on he knows it’s time for work, and I think he senses that he has a job to do.
“Margaret and I communicate through writing on a white board and I’ve started a ‘Lewis newsletter’ to share some of the things that Lewis has been up to between visits.”
Bev added: “This new service is for people who aren’t able to get out and about easily and are not involved in a lot of other things. The joy that the dogs bring is instant.
“Margaret’s world has now opened up for her. She has a daughter who lives close by and Linda and Lewis have built a lovely relationship with her too.”
The team is now looking for more volunteers and their dogs, as well as clients, to take part in the service.
To be a volunteer you need to be willing to travel, participate in a dog and owner interview and complete a police check.
Clients need to be over the age of 65, provide a safe visiting environment and be willing to have the owner visit with their pet.
The project was the idea of Chief Executive of Age Concern Canterbury, Simon Templeton, who was recently appointed as Chair of Canterbury Clinical Network’s Health of Older People Workstream (HOPWS).
“There has been a lot of research and the literature is clear – animal companionship works. It brings such a lift to people’s mood and can be the highlight of their week,” said Simon.
“We know loneliness is a major issue for the over 65s (21% are chronically lonely) so to be able to offer this service is magic. We hope to continue to grow it so hundreds of older people can have the love and affection of a companion on paws.”
For more information about Companions on Paws visit Age Concern Canterbury