Slimming World Journey: Weeks 1-3

As you are aware if you follow us on Instagram, I am now trying Slimming World as part of my plan to lose the desk chair arse I have acquired over the past few years. So far, so good. I mean, I still have ass but the numbers on the scales are going way down.

Here are the results so far:

Week 1: -5.5lb loss

Week 2: -3.5lb loss

Week 3: -2lb loss

Needless to say I am pretty chuffed with the results! I know the first week of any diet is always the best and is usually the biggest loss, but I am hoping to maintain a 2lb loss a week – but any loss will make me happy!

Considering that the only thing I have changed is my meals – and I am now eating breakfast which is a meal I haven’t eaten since I was 10, I think this is pretty good going.

I literally don’t do any exercise – I have an office job, I drive everywhere, and the furthest I walk is upstairs in my own house.

I do intend to include exercise into my new lifestyle, but I don’t want too much too soon and end up burning out and giving up like I have done so many times before. I will soon be walking from the car park for work rather than catching the park and ride bus, which saves me £24 a month and means I will be walking up a very steep hill for 1.6 miles a day.

Hopefully this will keep me on track before adding an actual gym routine a few times a week!

But for now, my first few weeks on Slimming World were very easy with just small adjustments to what I used to eat – I don’t feel deprived or like it is an actual diet.

In these three weeks I have still had a whole weekend from dieting for a hen party in Manchester complete with Nando’s, Wetherspoon’s breakfast, alcohol and a cheeseburger at 2am as well as the odd takeaway or two.

For example, my usual order from the chippy is a chicken and mushroom pie, a cone of chips and a scallop with a can of Fanta and usually a slice or two of bread, whereas now I have a cone of chips, fish with the batter taken off, mushy peas and a Diet Coke. But with this, I will usually eat an apple and a nectarine before my dinner so I don’t eat so much and still get my Speed Foods in!

For those who think a crash diet is the way to lose serious lbs you’re right, but it’s the worst thing to do if you actually want to maintain your weight loss (and I imagine that you do).

I have tried many diets from juicing, to 5:2 to Atkins, to point blank 800 calories a day, and I can firmly tell you that none of them are sustainable.

Slimming World is the food lover’s diet, and as I say there is initially no exercise involved, unless you really want to you don’t actually have to – but it helps.

If you are looking for a change in your life, I firmly think this is for you – don’t wait until Monday, or next week, start now and visit your local group. I’m so glad I did, I just wish I’d have done it sooner.

Are you on Slimming World? We would love to hear about your journey, and new recipes would be hugely appreciated.

You can follow my food diary on Instagram, and I would love to follow yours!

– love Carla x

Shopping: The Birthday Haul

My 26th birthday came and went *sob* but at least I got some beautiful gifts. I am a serious lover of candles, make up and all the other typically girlie things you can think of, so when I cracked open this little lot I was a very happy girlie!

 

I am a lover of the Real Techniques brushes, and up until the big day I only owned the Core Collection, so I was SO pleased to unwrap these beauties! They are a perfect mix of brushes, and with the Core Collection, I feel I have a complete set to do my make up, and it makes my morning routine that little bit more exciting.

The lovely purse was courtesy of the bf, and I am in love with the colour! I love a bright purse, and I like that I don’t have a bag in that colour, so things don’t get too match-matchy.

Next the Lily Flame candles, they smell DELICIOUS. I have roughly a million candles dotted around my house and they are mostly of the Yankee variety (see gifts 6 and 7) but I came across Lily Flame and I fell in love. They are hard to come by in the shops but Very.co.uk  have started selling them and I couldn’t recommend them more! They make the house smell incredible, and when the candle has burnt down, just leave the lid off the jar – it is better than any air freshener!

Estee Lauder is one of my favourite make up brands, and the perfumes are just as lovely. Beautiful is one of my favourite scents in my more “grown up” collection of perfume.

Yankee Candle – really need no explanation.

Next, my lovely Ted Baker bag. I have been after a nice casual shooter for a while and this fits the bill. There’s a zip compartment inside for valuables, but my favourite bit is the fact it is wipe clean – my bags don’t generally stay clean for long!

And finally, this is by far my favourite gift:

personalsed notebook

I am so very pleased with my new notebook! I have notebook after notebook of endless scribbles and musings, but this is my absolute favourite, courtesy of a Miss Keeling, and although you can’t tell from the pic, it’s embossed gold and is just so lovely!

Well that’s my little lot, and I had a very happy birthday.

– love Carla x

 

The dogs that change lives #5 – Hounds for Heroes

The last of my dogs that change lives series saw me and Big Les attend Crufts 2011, where I’d arranged to meet Allen Parton.

I already knew of Allen thanks to his book about Endal – a dog that was quite like no other. This is their story:

Allen Parton & EJ – Hounds for Heroes

Allen Parton & EJ - Hounds for Heroes

Two years to the day that he lost his beloved assistance dog, Endal, Allen Parton sits at a Crufts stall, set-up for his new charity, Hounds for Heroes, alongside Endal’s successor, three-year-old EJ.

Allen has come a long way since his injuries in the Gulf War, which robbed him of his memories and left him severely disabled.

Not only does he have his charity, created to help train dogs to assist the injured British service men and women, and a second book coming out, but also a movie of his life with Endal is in production, with a recent Oscar-winner cast to play him.

He says: “The Endal movie is definitely happening. They have Kate Winslet playing my wife and Colin Firth is playing me – filming is eminent.”

But books and films aside, Allen’s mission is to show that there are nearly a million injured service men and women in Britain, left to battle on through trauma, disability and bereavement long after a war has ended.

“Everyday I have to wake up and bring the wheelchair to my bed, and although I don’t remember the incident, each day since has been a struggle.

“We launched Hounds for Heroes in April 2010 and our main aim is to educate the services about us. We set out to raise £100,000 to enable us to buy and train five puppies to meet the specific needs of their owners,” Allen says.

“This is because I realised most charities and their assistance dos are aimed at a 48-year-old woman suffering from MS, who can be trained to open and close washing machines.

“What marine really wants a dog that can use a washing machine?”

The philosophy behind Allen’s charity is to remove the sense of disability and replace it with a feeling of ability, taking away the stigma of using canine assistance.

He says: “We are about ability not disability, solutions not problems. Our dogs will have jackets with embroided medals on and in the colours of each armed force, so that they become a badge of honour.”

Having an assistance dog is a powerful thing, not just for the injured veteran, but for the families as well.

“We have a client who was injured in Bosnia and we were chatting over the phone about him having a dog, and his children ran to their mum to ask why their dad was making a funny noise – it was the first time they had heard him laugh.”

But Hounds for Heroes would not have existed had it not been for Endal, the dog that Allen often claims saved not only his life, but also his marriage to wife, Sandra.

“Endal found me in a place that I shouldn’t have been in and he dragged me further away from that.

“I was lucky enough to be brought back to my wife, as I had no memory of her or my children, but we fell in love again. It was through the love of Endal that brought me back to them,” he says.

EJ, Ikea & Endal - Hounds for Heroes

“Someone once described my life as a jigsaw puzzle blown up in the Gulf War and every day, he went off and got another piece of that puzzle and brought it back to me.

“Although I’m not the person who went away, he made sense of what was left.”

Labrador Endal hadn’t received any assistance dog training other than a year of puppy socialising, learning how to behave in different situations, such as on public transport, and general manners like sit and stay.

Allen says: “People thought he was a fully trained dog but he wasn’t. He was just very intuitive, comprehending my every wish and need.

“To this day we’ll never know how he learned certain skills, like how to put me in the recovery position.”

And it was that particular skill that brought Endal to the nation’s attention when he and Allen were struck by a car in 2001.

“Endal got up knowing to put me in the recovery position, cover me with a blanket that was under the remains of the buckled wheelchair, crawl under a car to retrieve my mobile phone and try to wake me.

“When that failed, he limped off to a nearby hotel to raise the alarm, and for that he won the Victoria Cross.”

On March 13, 2009, 13-year-old Endal had to be put down after suffering from a stroke.

Allen says: “For a long time it was like Groundhog Day because I would forget Endal had died, and so every morning I had to grieve for him, which was quite hurtful – a rawness that he wasn’t there.”

Since then, Labrador EJ, short for Endal Junior, has been Allen’s partner in crime, assisting him without fault.

“When I took EJ on at eight weeks old, he and Endal had a year together, which for me was very important.

“Even from very early on, EJ would watch Endal and when I would fall unconscious, he just clicked that it was a serious sign and took over – the skills were transferred and it was a lovely learning curve.”

EJ has since mastered every command and skill that Endal did, including using a cash machine, retrieving items from supermarket shelves, pulling the plug out of the bath and operating switches and buttons.

Allen says: “EJ knows what he is doing – he really is on the ball and has taken to lead. As a one-year-old pup, he was doing everything that Endal had done, and I didn’t see that coming. I hadn’t realised how much EJ had learned from him.

“We do live quite a choreographed life,” he says. “I just know that when my hand goes down, he’s by my side. He’s constantly there on a physical level and very much on an emotional level.

“I thought I was lucky with Endal, but I am truly blessed to have EJ.”

The dogs that change lives #4 – Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

The penultimate piece of my 2011 dissertation on the dogs that change lives was the story of three incredible canines:

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Nearly nine million people in the UK suffer from an invisible disability, which can leave them feeling isolated and lonely – its name? Deafness.

One in seven adults will experience some form of hearing loss, and learning to live with this disability can have a devastating effect on a person’s life.

Many sufferers say they lost their sense of security, confidence and independence when they lost their hearing, often becoming withdrawn, as they find it increasingly hard to communicate.

But there is hope in the form of organisation, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. Launched at Crufts in 1982, the charity trains dogs to alert deaf people to everyday household sounds, and danger signals in the home, workplace and in public buildings.

Since its launch, it has created more than 1,600 partnerships between deaf people and hearing dogs in the UK with 750 currently working today.

Don Sharpe & Mitchell - Hearing Dogs

Don Sharpe, aged 60, from Sutton-in-Ashfield, in Nottinghamshire, discovered he was losing his hearing 12 years ago, and his world fell apart.

As a qualified music teacher, he played the organ six days a week, and his hearing loss meant he struggled to adjust to his world of virtual silence.

He says: “I found myself withdrawing into my shell and became fearful of the ever increasing busy world. I tried to involve myself in charity work, but on one occasion, I was staying overnight at a university campus when there was a fire in a nearby building.

“Everybody was evacuated on the signal of the smoke alarm but I slept through it, not realising it was sounding.

“It was then that I decided to apply for a hearing dog, who would not only alert me to danger signals such as smoke alarms, but also to everyday household sounds like the doorbell.”

Three years ago, Don was matched to Mitchell, a five-year-old fox-terrier border collie cross, and life has reverted back to much of what it was before.

“Sadly there can never be music again,” says Don, “but having Mitchell by my side has allowed me to avoid much of the stresses of deafness and what was becoming a dangerous world for me.

“He is my best friend, my dearest trusted companion. I couldn’t be without him and he is a big part of who I am now.”

Hearing dogs alert their deaf owners to sounds by touching them with a paw or nudging with their nose to gain attention. By asking ‘what is it?’ via voice or hand command, the dog will then lead the owner to the source of the sound.

For danger signals like a smoke alarm, the hearing dog will alert the owner in the same way until asked ‘what is it?’ when they will then lie down to indicate the danger.

There are around 50,000 people who have been profoundly deaf since birth or early infancy, and Ken James from Brighton, is one of those people, having been deaf since the age of two.

Ken James & Zoe - Hearing Dogs

He says: “I grew up in an orphanage, feeling isolated and alone. This had an effect on my adult life and even though I am happily married with two grown-up children, I still won’t go to the shops on my own due to my lack of confidence.”

Things improved for Ken when his medical consultant suggested he find out about applying for a hearing dog.

“I got Drake when I was studying for my university degree and he made such a difference to my life. I eventually graduated and became a qualified social worker.

“Drake was beside me every step of the way and I was devastated when he passed away. I started to become a bit of a recluse again, missing callers at the door because my companion wasn’t there to let me know when the doorbell had rang,” says Ken.

“Then in December 2009, Zoe came into my life and everything changed for better. We went Christmas shopping together, which was something I would never have done without her.”

Hearing dogs, like two-year-old flat-coat retriever labrador cross, Zoe, wear distinctive burgundy jackets and leads slip, which helps to identify their owner’s otherwise invisible disability to passers-by.

Ken says: “Zoe was really calm with the crowds and I felt at ease in a way that I just couldn’t have on my own. She loves what she does and she gives so much, even teaching herself new sounds to alert me to.

“Hearing Dogs is a wonderful organisation and Zoe is a wonderful friend. I’ll be saying thank you for the rest of my years.”

As well as bringing increased peace of mind to their deaf owner, hearing dogs are also a practical alternative to technical equipment.

Nina, a five-year-old Lhasa Apso, opened up a whole new world to owner Sheila Aston, from Lancashire, who had become deaf due to an accident at work in 1966.

Sheila Aston & Nina - Hearing Dogs

Sheila, now 70, was in her 20s with a young family when she was involved in the accident, which buried her under six feet of iron racks.

She says: “The poles had gone over like skittles, with me underneath – it took a group of men to get me out. Not only did I lose my hearing but I also suffered with tinnitus, head pain, facial paralysis and even a white streak in my hair.”

A blood clot, as a result of the accident, travelled through Sheila’s body and settled in her brain, triggering the paralysis and hearing loss. Although the tinnitus eventually subsided, her hearing never returned.

“When I was working, I hid my deafness from my bosses as I knew I would be sacked if found out,” she says. “I could never go out with a group of people because I wouldn’t be able to lip read everyone well enough.”

Six years ago, when visiting the audiology department at her local hospital, Sheila was told that she needed help to cope with everyday life and the use of a hearing dog was suggested – two years later, she was partnered with Nina.

Shelia says: “I loved Nina from the moment I met her, she is such a character and is my best friend – a constant companion. She has given me back my freedom and I feel safer with her.

“I feel better with her by my side and I can sleep better at night because I know that she will alert me if the smoke alarm goes off.

“Who would have thought that one little dog could make such a big difference to my life?”

The dogs that change lives #3 – Support Dogs

The third story from my 2011 dissertation about the dogs that change lives:

Jenny Dennis & Jarvis – Support Dogs

Jenny Dennis  & Jarvis - Support Dogs

More than 500,000 people in the UK suffer from autism, and over half of those are children aged 16 and under. Although there is no cure, there is a solution that could ease the lives of thousands of families across the country.

Enter Jarvis, a three-year-old yellow Labrador cross Golden Retriever, who for almost two years has given life back to the Dennis family, after being matched to nine-year-old autism sufferer, Isaac, by charity Support Dogs.

Support Dogs is a national charity, which trains dogs to help improve the lives of people with epilepsy, physical disabilities and children with autism.

Isaac’s mum, Jenny Dennis, says: “After hearing about Support Dogs’ launching of its Autism Assistance programme, myself and my husband Phil wondered if this could be a way forward for Isaac.

“We decided to begin the application process with the hope of giving not only Isaac and ourselves a better family life, but also his twin sister, Jessica.”

Autism is a disorder of neural development, distinguished by three main symptoms; impairments in social interaction; impairments in communication; and restricted interests and repetitive behaviour.

“Before we had Jarvis, people had a tendency to stare if Isaac was reacting badly to his surroundings, and as he and Jessica got older, it became harder for her to cope with the responses of passers-by.

“Isaac’s latest thing to do is to growl at people, I can laugh it off, but for a nine-year-old girl, it’s not as easy,” Jenny says.

The family, who live in Heanor, Derbyshire, also found it increasingly difficult to have family outings due to Isaac’s unpredictable behaviour and aversion to busy or noisy environments.

“Like many people with severe autism, Isaac has heightened sensory issues. Too much noise or certain sounds disturb him and he tends to walk with his fingers in his ears or with his headphones on.

“He is also totally dependent upon us as he cannot communicate his needs and feelings verbally, and as a result his behaviour is often very challenging.

“We did on occasions have to resort to the use of a wheelchair as sensory overload meant he would sit on the floor and refuse to move – it made family outings impossible.”

Support Dogs’ Autism Assistance programme trains dogs to help children participate in social activities, increasing their independence and safety, along with providing comfort and reducing stress.

A recent study by the University of Montreal has shown that dogs can help children with developmental disorders by significantly reducing their anxiety and stress levels.

Dr. Sonia Lupien, the study’s author, said: “Our findings showed that the dogs had a clear impact on the children’s stress hormone levels – I have not seen such a dramatic effect before.”

Support Dogs

After interviews, home assessments and acceptance onto the programme, Jenny and Jarvis had their residential training, which involved Jarvis learning to take orders from Jenny instead of his former trainer, and in September 2009, she took him home.

“Jarvis came from Guide Dogs as he was not cut out for guiding, but he was perfect for our son,” Jenny says.

Autism Dogs wear a special blue jacket, which has additional securing points so that a handle can be attached for the child to hold, and a body harness to keep the child fastened to the dog so that they move together as a team.

“Isaac was a little unsure of being too close to Jarvis at first, but he took to being attached instantly. We initially started with short walks in quiet areas and have gradually increased the length of the walks as well as going to different and busier shops.

“Isaac doesn’t look disabled but when he is attached to Jarvis, people understand and recognise that there is a disability. Now, instead of staring, passers-by are more friendly and forthcoming, asking question about Jarvis and petting him.”

Since having an Autism Assistance dog, Jenny, Phil, Jessica and Isaac are now able to go out as a family whether it’s eating out, visiting friends or attending Jessica’s presentations at Brownies.

Jenny says: “We used to have to plan any activities around Isaac’s moods. Normally only one of us would be able to go out as the other would need to stay at home with Isaac, but now we can all go together as he will sit calmly and patiently when attached to Jarvis.

“It’s hard to pinpoint what it is about Jarvis as Isaac can’t communicate with us. I think it’s the safety of being attached to him – he is Isaac’s comforter.”

The difference in Isaac’s behaviour and stress levels is especially evident when a trip to the supermarket is on the cards.

“Isaac hated going to the supermarket as it’s noisy and has shiny floors – he detested everything about it.

“Before, he would refuse to leave the car and after an hour I would give up and go home. Now he jumps out ready to be attached to Jarvis and we go – it’s the little things like that which are now easier,” says Jenny.

“Isaac is definitely getting more used to having Jarvis around. He instigates chase by squealing and taking his headphones off.

“We’ve also noticed Isaac randomly stroking Jarvis, without being prompted, as he walks past him. A few times they have been sitting together quietly with Isaac touching Jarvis’ head gently.

“Having Jarvis has improved family life and we are truly blessed to have him.”

The dogs that change lives #2 – Dogs for the Disabled

Following on from the first in this special blog post series on the dogs that change lives, here is the second story from my 2011 dissertation:

Keith Widdowson & Hugo – Dogs for the Disabled

Dogs for the Disabled 1

When people think of an assistance dog, their first and usually only thought, is of a guide dog for the blind. But there are, in fact, several types of assistance dog helping not just blind people, all over the UK.

Dogs for the Disabled is a charity that creates life-changing partnerships between people living with disability and specially trained dogs.

These dogs help a person with disabilities to become more independent by performing skills such as picking up items in difficult to reach places, collecting the post and loading the washing machine.

They also become a reason to go out, giving a new found confidence to its owner, and for Keith Widdowson, that is exactly what a black Labrador named Hugo did.

He says: “Seven and a half years ago I would collapse quite frequently and I couldn’t walk without people assuming I was drunk.

“I relied heavily on my cane and would receive verbal abuse from passers-by for walking too slowly, or be accused of being a benefit cheat as I can’t work.

“They would see the cane and automatically assume I was scamming the system. I am disabled, it is just a disability you can’t see.”

Damaging his back in 1985 has led to Keith losing two-and-a-half inches from his spinal column and the inability to walk unassisted. He can also be in danger of falling unconscious when yawning due to an old boxing injury.

“My conditions and the reactions of strangers meant I rarely left the house, with my wife and son unable to leave me unattended. I felt like a burden,” Keith says.

“A friend recommended a stability dog would not only improve my life, but that of my family’s. It was the kick-start I needed.

“I wanted my family to go on holiday and not have to sacrifice travelling abroad because I can’t get insured. I wanted them to feel they could go out and not have to worry about me.”

After sponsoring Dogs for the Disabled for more than ten years, Keith, who lives in Barnsley, applied for a partnership, and in July 2003, was matched to 18-month-old pup, Hugo.

Helen Harper, an instructor at the charity’s Wakefield branch, trains the dogs and matches partnerships.

She says: “When creating a partnership, we tailor the dog’s skills for each individual owner and continue to support them throughout the entirety of the pairing. The dogs work alongside the person and they then work together as a team.

“There are three areas of an assistance dog’s training; obedience, such as sit and stay; push, pull and retrieve; and a safety element where the dog is taught to ‘speak’ to gain attention in a situation.

“These things combine to give the owner a level of independence that they have never had before.”

Dogs for the Disabled

Over 12 months, Hugo’s training and natural instincts meant he tuned into Keith’s needs, and helped to transform not only the former university lecturer’s life, but also that of his family’s.

He says: “Hugo performed tasks he’d not only been taught to do, but also things he hadn’t, like when I struggle to stand from a sitting position – he would go behind me and not only support me, but nudge me to my feet.

“Having Hugo also meant that my family could go places without me, and if I was out walking with him, people knew I needed help thanks to his yellow jacket, and would part in the street to give me the room I needed.

“He gave me the independence and confidence to go out alone, and I found that having a dog was a social icebreaker,” Keith says. “Passers-by would take the time to talk to me and Hugo, although one person did ask why I had a dog as I wasn’t blind.”

It is a common misconception that dogs are only trained to help the blind, and while Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was the first organisation to use canine assistance, dog training has spread further afield to help people with other types of disabilities.

Dogs for the Disabled have created over 400 partnerships, with more than 200 currently working in England and Wales.

Helen says: “We use Labradors, Golden Retrievers and crosses of the two as these breeds have a willingness to work for people, a great temperament, and a natural ability to perform tasks.

“The skills the dogs perform tap into their natural instincts and they are never forced to do things.”

These skills also gave the Widdowson family the chance to do something they had previously never been able to do before.

Keith says: “The best thing about having a stability dog was that my family were able to go on holiday to Austria, while I stayed at home safe in Hugo’s care.”

Much research has also gone into proving that dogs can sense illnesses and oncoming seizures in humans, something that became evident when Hugo saved Keith’s life.

He says: “The extent of his intelligence and care was proved when he alerted me that something was wrong.

“He started to bark in my face, so my wife rang to the doctor and it turned out that I was going into anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction to penicillin – Hugo had sensed it.”

In January, Keith received the news that his new stability dog had become fully qualified and was ready to be his next helper.

He says: “Stability dogs retire at ten years old and Hugo was now nine. He left us on February 20, and it is the end of an era.

“I loved Hugo and Hugo loved me. I didn’t want to say goodbye but I know he will be just fine living with his former puppy socialiser.

“It has been difficult without him and I do feel lost, but I know that although Clara, my new assistance dog, won’t be Hugo, she will improve my life once again and benefit me in a different way – and that’s all I can ask for.”

The dogs that change lives #1 – Pets As Therapy

If you live in the UK, you will have seen (or at least I hope you will have) ITV’s Me and My Guide DogFollowing the lives of ten puppies as they train to become guide dogs, the programme highlighted just how amazing these animals truly are.

Now I know this is a slight change for SWHH, but it is a subject matter that is extremely close to my heart, and hey, this is my lil corner of the internet, so I’m gonna write about it.

By now you know that I prefer animals to people, so much so that for my university dissertation, I chose to write my 10,000 words on just how these incredible four-legged creatures change lives.

I pretty much travelled up and down England to interview and see the dogs that change lives back in 2011 and here is the first story:

Bernard Perry & Sam – Pets As Therapy

Bernard Perry & Sam - Pets As Therapy

Jet, the flat-coated retriever may have won Best in Show at Crufts 2011, but there is another flat-coat winning the affections of the people across Staffordshire.

Sam, a ten-year-old black flat-coated retriever, is a registered Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog, who along with his owner Bernard Perry, has been bringing happiness to the residents and workers at Ashcroft Hollow Nursing Home, in Stafford, for over six years.

Founded in 1983, Pets As Therapy provides therapeutic visits to a variety of establishments including hospitals, nursing homes and special needs schools, by volunteers with their own friendly, temperament-tested dogs and cats.

Bernard, aged 67, from Silverthorn Way, Stafford, says: “It’s a nice feeling doing something positive. The interaction with the residents and seeing their reaction to Sam is very rewarding. It’s a wonderful job.

“My wife Kate registered with PAT first with our other retriever Cassie, but because she was teaching, there were only certain times she could do visitations, so I joined with Sam.”

Retired bus drive Bernard and Sam visit the nursing home once a fortnight, helping to bring everyday life closer to those in care, along with all the happy associations of home comforts.

He says: “The visit matters so much to the residents and the staff, they look forward to seeing Sam, but it’s not just about the dog, it’s about the people.

“On our first visit we met a lady who interacted with Sam straight away, wanting to know all about him, what colour he was, what breed, and she remembers it all.

“It gives her a picture in her mind and makes a connection between them. She can’t walk, is blind and partially deaf. The staff told me afterwards that she also rarely speaks unless Sam and I are visiting.”

Elderly residents often have to leave their own pets behind and the constant companionship of an animal that gives unconditional love is one of the most missed aspects of their lives. Having a visiting PAT dog can make that loss seem bearable.

Bernard says: “Sam knows what he’s doing when he’s on a visit. Some of the residents can’t always reach him so he will instinctively lean towards them so they can pet him.”

Pam Williams, matron manager of Ashcroft Hollow, says: “We love having Sam and Bernard come to visit us. The staff and I love to sneak Sam a few treats and give him a great big fuss.

“It’s also a wonderful sight to see how the residents react to him. He really brightens up their day.”

Pets As Therapy

Since becoming involved with Pets As Therapy, Bernard has taken on the role of coordinator for the Staffordshire area, matching volunteers to places in need of PAT animal visits.

“There are 120 volunteers in Staffordshire, with establishments waiting for dogs. My job is to find a volunteer who lives near each location,” he says.

“If there isn’t a close enough volunteer for any of the places on the waiting list, Sam and I will go just so they can experience a visit until someone becomes available – together, we’ve been all over Staffordshire.”

To become a registered PAT volunteer, pets and their owners have to be assessed on a number of things such as the temperament of the animal and the control the owner has over them.

Bernard says: “PAT volunteers have to be sociable too. I used to be nervous of people and quite shy, but being a part of the charity and going on visits has definitely brought me out of my shell.”

Volunteers and their pets can visit as many places as they want to. As well as Ashcroft Hollow, Sam and Bernard also visit Sister Dora’s Care Home in Stafford on Pets As Therapy duty.

He says: “Retired volunteers can give as much time as they want. The majority of our volunteers have jobs but do their visits at the weekends or in the evenings – it’s a huge commitment but one that makes a big difference.”

Research has shown that dogs help to promote social interaction in older people, especially those who feel isolated or are withdrawn, helping to open them up and let the barriers down.

“I also hold talks on the interaction between humans and animals and the benefits of them,” Bernard says. “People don’t realise the significance a dog can have – Sam is my my mate not a dog, he’s a friend.”

Over the years, dogs have received bad press with stories of ‘dangerous dogs’ attacking strangers and children, but Bernard and Pets As Therapy don’t discriminate against breeds.

He says: “We have all types of breeds, even those considered to be ‘dangerous dogs’ as they are not dangerous because of their breed, but because of how they are trained and brought up.

“Dogs get a bad press because of the bad press. People won’t hear about the Staffordshire bull who visits a nursing home and brings happiness to its residents, but they should.”

There are over 4,500 active PAT dogs at work in the UK who bring hope, comfort and happiness to the 130,000 people, both old and young, that they visit – there just isn’t a trophy to show it.