A PET therapy charity is looking for new volunteers to help cheer students and people in need across the Highlands.
The local branch of Pets as Therapy, a charity providing pet therapy sessions in establishments such as care homes, hospitals, hospices and schools, is looking for more pet owners to join their volunteering team in the north of Scotland.
Area coordinator for the Highlands, Adrian Munro, said that the waiting list for pet therapy sessions in the area is growing.
“I have got so many schools and care homes that are look for volunteers,” he said. “I just don’t have the numbers of volunteers to fill in al these requests. Many volunteers work full time so it’s quite difficult for them to juggle working hours, especially when it comes to school visits.
“I have a list of establishments, from schools to hospitals that are looking for volunteers but we just don’t have the numbers to cover them all.
“At the moment we have around 28 volunteers, and numbers have been going down with Covid and with some of our dogs getting older.
“Requests come from Elgin, Inverness, Easter Ross…really, we are looking for all areas across the Highlands and Moray. Probably the highest number of requests comes from schools, and for these requests we are looking for volunteers that could go in every two weeks to offer continuity with the schools.”
Mr Munro, who is based in Portmahomack, has been working with the charity for over a decade and and first became involved 12 years ago when his daughter Hannah (18) found support in Pets as Therapy to overcome her own dog phobia as a child.
“We have been taking our daughter down to Inverness for two years to work with a gentleman and his and his dog to help her with her fear for dogs, and after seeing the work he was doing, and decided to get involved.
“We think our daughter was initially hit in the face by a childminder’s dog, and we think that’s where her fear came from. As we had dogs in the house, she would go on the table and wouldn’t get down from the table, or she would go the long way around the dog to get out of the room. from a distance.
“Thankfully my wife saw a stall of the charity at a fair in Inverness ad we got the contacts of the gentleman. Every week we would travel from Portmahomack down to Inverness and over that period he was able to help her conquer her fear of dogs.
“It was life changing, now she is quite happy to go out and if we go to shows she is happy to help out as a volunteer and she explains how the charity has helped her.”
Volunteer Margaret Ross has been helping out with the charity for around five years with her dog Harry (14).
She said: “It’s just amazing to see how some people faces light up when they meet Harry. We also went to the hospice and I remember going to visit one older gentleman, who used to be a crofter and who couldn’t have dogs anymore , and who had no speech. He patted his knee and as soon as Harry went on his knees his face lit up, it was just wonderful.
“I love to go to schools and the experience of meeting and helping young people, especially for the Read to Dogs sessions, which support children who lack self confidence in reading in class. The students love it, they read to Harry and they cuddle him , and he loves it too as he gets all the cuddles and attention.
“We also went to some pre-exams sessions with senior pupils, and while at first they were all sitting quietly by the end of the sessions they were playing on the ground with Harry and came out of it smiling and cheerful.
“I would recommend this because it’s a great experience, it gives you a lot and hopefully it will help others too.
“I started this because my mother had Alzheimer’s and she couldn’t hold a conversation, but she would cuddle Harry and she would chat away to him. It was something she would look forward to.
“I think pets as a whole are really good for your well-being, because they don’t ask for anything but a cuddle.”
Those willing to get involved can apply to become volunteers on the charity’s website petsastherapy.org.
Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.