How dogs are helping some of Sunderland’s most vulnerable people

Barney during visits the Sir Thomas Allan Centre in Sunderland as part of the project.
Barney during visits the Sir Thomas Allan Centre in Sunderland as part of the project.
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A charity is giving the elderly paws for thought as it takes dogs into homes to help beat feelings of loneliness.

Wags & Company has been set up to offer canine companionship to older people, as well as the vulnerable, in the comfort of their own homes.

Barney, the English Mastiff, visits the Sir Thomas Allan Centre in Sunderland as part of the charity Wag & Co.

Barney, the English Mastiff, visits the Sir Thomas Allan Centre in Sunderland as part of the charity Wag & Co.

It is especially looking to help those with dementia, with the visits also heading for community centres and care homes.

Its leaders say the scale of the loneliness among the elderly is significant, with more than 51,000 pensioners in the North East describing themselves as feeling alone all or most of the time.

Wag & Co aims to combat this by providing 1,000 volunteers to visit people’s homes regularly by 2021 and by raising £150,000.

One of its first visits have included sessions at the Essence Service at the Sir Thomas Allan Centre, which is run by Age UK in Mill Hill Road, Doxford Park.

It’s a bit like when you have grandchildren and you look forward to their visit, it gives you a boost.

Nancy Ramsey

The charity began operating earlier this year after its founder Diane Morton experienced first-hand the power of man’s best friend when her own father was diagnosed with dementia and spent his last four years in a nursing home.

She said: “I know how vital these visits can be as my father’s dementia was really quite severe toward the end, it was heart breaking, but Harry, the dog I used bring with me when I visited him, was a ray of sunshine.

“My father would recognise Harry, call him by name and stroke him but would struggle to identify me or anything else.

“It was the power of this sort of connection that really struck a chord with me, what impact a dog can make to the elderly who are dealing with issues such as isolation and long term conditions both mental and physical.”

Gordon Wilson with his dog Barney.

Gordon Wilson with his dog Barney.

Diane retired from a long and successful career in corporate affairs at Northumbrian Water and decided to use her contacts to launch her own charity to help the elderly and vulnerable.

Dog handler Gordon Wilson attends the Essence Centre with his English mastiff Barney.

Among those who enjoy their visits is Nancy Ramsey of Ryhope, who is recovering from a long period of ill health.

She said: “It’s a bit like when you have grandchildren and you look forward to their visit, it gives you a boost.

Diane Morton with her dog Harry.

Diane Morton with her dog Harry.

“Having Barney around is a bit like that.
“However, one of my grandchildren is two and a half he’s called Aiden and he’s fantastic, he says ‘I love seeing you grandma’ how can you beat that?
“But seeing Barney is very calming as well a real pleasure.”

Anthony Gonzales, Essence manager for Age UK, said: “Our programmes include activities like curling and the weekly visits from Barney at the community centre have become a key part of our routine.

More details about the charity can be found via www.wagandcompany.co.uk, or by calling 01434 611801.