Doggy Christmas

October 11, 2015


It was all about the seasonal fashion yesterday at Christ Church Cathedral. True, Twiggy may have rocked up sporting a Burberry coat, while a cohort was on trend in Aran knitwear, but elsewhere there were Santa suits, elf hats, lots of tinsel, and fairy lights strewn across fur, as the Peata Therapy Dogs assembled for their annual Christmas Carol Service.

Presided over by the Reverend Dermot Dunne, the roof of the Cathedral was lifted by the hails of the choir – and the howls of the bitches in the pews, as prayers were said both in thanks for the joy they bring, and in hope that the movement will continue.

“It can be quite difficult for care homes to have a residential pet,” says John Bainbridge, who set up Peata in 1996. “They tend to get overweight and over fed. So we found it better to have people bring their dogs in for an hour or so a week.”

The dogs visit people with mental and physical disabilities, students stressed out by exams, the homeless and old age pensioners, many of whom turned up yesterday so they could pay their respects to those who bring them so much joy, six ambulances carting them to the church.
“Initially you are visiting people you don’t know,” says Adrienne O Keefe, who visits four care homes around Dublin with her rescue dog Twiggy. “But then, eventually, they become your friends, your family. Many have so little contact to the outside world and the light that comes into their eyes when they see the dogs, they totally change.”

She recalls one gentleman whom she had struck up a friendship with, who took a turn for the worse earlier this year. “I specifically asked to visit him one evening, and I got to put his hand on Twiggy’s head. Later that night, he passed away. But I know how much comfort he got from seeing her one last time.”

“A lot of people in nursing homes had animals in the past,” says Charlotte Walker. Her boxer, Bruce, was rocking a tartan shawl and reindeer antlers that off set his salt and pepper smig. “They reminisce about them with us. It becomes a talking point. Nurses would say, “that patient doesn’t speak from one end of the week to the next. He doesn’t get involved. But as soon as he sees your dog, he opens up.”

“When you bring your dog to them, the patient might have Alzheimers or dementia,” adds Adrienne O’Keefe. “They can be quite confused. But they will always remember the dog’s name.”
The mass is not just a spiritual occasion, but a social one. Many Peata volunteers travel from around the country specifically for it. Ann Gahan came from Naas with her dogs Gypsy, Rusty and Bobby, who donned sparkly dresses for the occasion, while the Reverend Janet White Spunner travelled up on the train from Birr, with four identical miniature poodles, one of whom she adopted from another Peata volunteer who’d passed on, giving you some idea as to how close a community it can be.

“My border collie, Tessa, gives me so much pleasure,” concludes Margaret Dickson. “And I wanted to share it with other people. It’s not a tough job for her, to be loved and lavished with attention.”

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