Our dogs love the peace garden. They can roam freely and are safe behind the gates. There are several dogs that come to the garden with their respective chauffeurs. Let me describe a few.

Pippin, she is a real smiler, a slim and lively labrador who loves to dig for small rodents that I always hope she doesn’t catch. She waits stock still, listening and watching for her prize. She has a serene expression and dotes on Liz.

Woody is a terrier, alert, fast and wide ranging. He enjoys running in the woods but always comes back. He loves biscuits and will sit on your knee if there’s a chance of getting one.

Casper is a stately old boy now. He struggles to walk far but does enjoy a swim. He snores loudly in the sanctuary while we are having tea. It makes us grin.

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Then there are Skye and Shep who come to the garden on Thursdays. Skye is a gentle demure, border collie, very sweet natured and her friend Shep is a black Labrador with a strong character who sees himself in command.

Our dogs are our friends, our companions, and we may underestimate their contribution to the project. For it occurs to me that we use pet therapy in the garden, with the Let’s Get Growing group, in an unplanned, yet effective way.

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Pet therapy is where small animals, dogs in particular, are invited into hospital or nursing homes to visit patients. The idea is that stroking, and cuddling animals can help alleviate mood and pain levels. Because we have an emotional bond with animals they can motivate us and help us reminisce. Patients who have pets often suffer and worry when they are separated from their pets. Many hospitals are now inviting the whole family to visit patients, pets too!

I volunteer for a charity called Cinnamon Trust who find foster homes for animals whose owners are unable to care for them. You may have spotted Dougal, a delightful Chitsu, that I looked after for a while. He had a whale of a time at the Peace Garden getting wet and dirty. His owner unfortunately died in hospital but he did get to visit her in hospital and she was pleased he could enjoy the freedom of Minsteracres.

Several Lets Get Growing members and volunteers have had pets and still do have pets. Their animals are a great source of conversation and distraction from other difficulties. We are able to engage people in pet conversations that may find socialising difficult.

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The Peace Garden dogs themselves enjoy their walks with the group. I know Casper looks forward to Tuesdays, for many a biscuit is secretly squirreled to the dogs under the table. We get through a few packets of Jammy Dodgers I can tell you!

So not only do the dogs give us comfort and provide us with interest, but also petting them and seeing them at rest is said make us feel secure and improve our sense of well being.

Have you heard of Animal assisted therapy? It involves animals in providing health treatment. When people are in nursing homes or hospital they sometimes become passive, agitated, withdrawn, depressed, and inactive because of the lack of regular visitors or the loss of loved ones.

Animal assisted therapy provides these patients with opportunities to have close physical contact with the animals’ warm bodies, they can feel their heartbeats, caress their soft coats, notice their breathing, and give them hugs.

Animal assisted therapists plan activities for patients who need physical exercise. These tasks include walking and grooming the animals. These experiences may seem commonplace and simple, but patients do not typically have these interactions with people if their loved ones have passed away or no one comes to visit them.

Animals can provide a sense of meaning and belonging to patients and offer them something to look forward.

So you can see why our dogs are important to the project, we gain so much from their presence; they improve our quality of life. We use them, in the nicest possible way, for exercise, comfort, reminiscence, mood enhancement and to cement friendships.

We know there may come a day when someone is allergic or phobic to the dogs and we will need to take that on board, but until that time comes they are an integral part of our therapy.

Our pet therapists are invaluable to us, we love them, but it has got to be said they are rubbish at gardening!