Our unique home visiting service, providing friends with two and with four legs, and our mission to end loneliness in older dog lovers in the North East was highlighted in the 2019 Mars Petcare Report, “Tackling Loneliness”. The report really just highlighted our existence and the importance of our service but we were delighted to receive a mention so early in our development.
There is a huge need for our special befrienders in our region. Campaign for Loneliness Statistics tell us that there are over 51,000 pensioners across the 12 unitary authorities of the North East who describe themselves as lonely all or most of the time.
Many are dog lovers as the North East has the highest proportion of dog owning households in the UK. Many are bereaved, depressed, have become socially isolated, their health has deteriorated and they have lost the confidence to go out alone; they have also found themselves without a much loved dog, probably for the first time.
Often the problem becomes noticed by medical or social care agencies because of the person's depression or increasing disability and once they realise they've been a dog owner, usually because of a house full of photographs, they tell them about Wag & Company and ask them if they'd like a new furry friend to visit regularly. Of course, at the same time and without having to ask, they are actually also getting a rather nice two legged friend at the same time, a fellow dog lover, loads in common and to chat about.
Sometimes a family member hears about us and contacts us directly and we'll put them in touch with one of the agencies we deal with regularly to manage the referral.
We are the only visiting dog charity to visit people alone in their own homes as well as in care. It has taken a number of years to develop a series of protocols for safeguarding which we believe manage our special befriending services as safely as possible.
The results are utterly transformational for some individuals. People who haven't talked for months suddenly ask a spaniel called Max whether he's been to the park, someone with depression receiving regular counselling cancels it completely on the basis of her new therapist, a Springer cross called Bentley and people talk about how their Visiting Wag Teams have saved their lives.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust selected us in 2018 as a partner to support the elderly in their own homes. David Dawson, their Older Persons Specialist, confirms the importance of our work: "My background is secondary care, tablets, machines, doctors, treatment plans, data. All very important to staying well and reducing frailty/vulnerability. But the work you are doing in Wag is JUST as important. Because when people are lonely and isolated, it is next to impossible to stay well."
As our older friend Mr John Robson tells us: "Loneliness is a disease and you just don't know how to get rid of it, but my Wag friends, Sean and Alfie the Labrador, have made my life worth living again."
Every day we witness the magical effect of vulnerable, isolated older people regaining a spring in their step because they have friends, someone to talk to, something to look forward to, someone to wish them a happy birthday and a beautiful four legged friend to cuddle and to care about. Simple friendship and kindness really, that we would all hope for, for ourselves and for our own families.