Dachshund delivers some animal magic

    Weekly visits by a lovable dachshund are proving a tonic at one of our senior living services in London.

    Weekly visits by a lovable dachshund are proving a tonic at one of our senior living services in London.

    Bismarck has been spending Monday mornings at Esther Randall Court in Camden for several months, visiting the less mobile in their flats and taking centre stage in the communal lounge.

    Many of the 35 residents head there to pet the dog, chat to owner Corrina and socialise with each other.

    The visits come courtesy of animal welfare charity Mayhew. Its dog therapy programme TheraPaws trains dogs and owners to help improve wellbeing in the local community, particularly among older people, those with dementia and people with mental health issues.

    “Bismarck makes people feel at ease,” says service manager Mohammad Khan. “He is so calm, he loves to be petted and I’ve never heard him bark. He also loves a treat – and everyone gets the chance to slip him a biscuit.”

    Surrogate pet

    He has become something of a surrogate pet for the residents, who are not permitted animals in their flats.  

    “Animals were always part of our family,” says resident Jane, previous owner of three rescue dogs and a cat. “I like all animals and it’s nice to be reminded of that.”

    Bismarck brings back memories for Ken of an ‘incredible collie’ he once worked with at an Australian sheep station and, for Margaret, of the working dogs on the big farm in Scotland where she grew up. “They weren’t pets,” she says, “but we loved them. That’s why I look forward to seeing Bismarck each week.”

    Esther Randall Court was approached by TheraPaws last year to help with a research project by a PhD student at Middlesex University exploring the benefits of pet therapy.

    The student spent many hours with residents and staff before writing her report, which concluded that the visits had a huge impact on the lives of residents – a view that Mohammad and his team share.

    “There’s the immediate impact of residents enjoying the company of not only Bismarck but Corrina, who lives locally and has built her own relationships with them. She feels like a friend coming to visit,” he says. “There are also the longer-term benefits of encouraging residents to socialise, build relationships and slow down any dementia.”

    Campfire Elvis

    The visits have even shaped the way the staff intend to move the service forward, inspiring a vibrant programme of activities that encourage participation, volunteering and community spirit, involving residents, their families, staff, neighbours and visiting health professionals.

    Weekly music sessions, for instance, get everyone singing or playing (on donated instruments) along to resident favourites, like Elvis and Sinatra.

    “We wanted to create a campfire or karaoke vibe,” says Mohammad. “We know that our residents enjoy musical performances, but we wanted to get them more involved. Some said they’d never sing, but they’re starting to join in.

    “In the same way, we want Esther Randall Court to be something that everybody feels a part of.”

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