A large furry friend is providing creature comfort to people living with dementia in Sunderland, after proving popular at his first outing.

Barney, a very large English Mastiff dog, is a new regular at Essence Service, providing company to older people who have recently been diagnosed with dementia. He, and handler Gordon Wilson have been visiting the Essence Service – at Sir Thomas Allen Centre – once a week since June and service users have struck up a bond with the six-year-old pooch. The dog is from Wag and Company North East Friendship Dogs, a registered charity working out of Hexham that enables visiting dog teams to build meaningful new friendships with older dog lovers across the North East of England.

Alan Patchett, director at Age UK Sunderland – which delivers the Essence Service, designed to support people who have recently been diagnosed with dementia – said the visitors to the centre have fallen in love with Barney since he started attending the group.

He said: “For many older people, a dementia diagnosis – or even challenges presented by older age, like mobility issues – can mean that they no longer feel able to look after a pet.

“Wag and Company ensures that dog lovers can spend time with canine companions, without having to own one and still enjoy the unique connection that people and animals enjoy. Barney has proven to be a huge hit with people using the Essence Service, and we’re delighted to have him come along weekly to keep people entertained.”

Nancy Ramsey, 85, visits the centre every Monday, just to see Barney.

She said: “I always look forward to Mondays to come to the Essence Centre and see him. He’s so lovely to have around because he brings a smile to so many faces.”

The Essence Service is the first port of call for people in Sunderland who have recently been diagnosed with dementia, and those who care for them. It is delivered by Age UK Sunderland, working in partnership with Sunderland Carers’ Centre, The Alzheimer’s Society and many other partners across the city of Sunderland, to provide the service, which is making a difference to over 1,000 people across the city.

The service offers a wide range of practical support by giving information in areas around health, wellbeing and legal issues, as well as providing engaging sessions and activities that keep people’s minds occupied, something that can help to slow down the effects of dementia.

Diane Morton, director of Wag and Company, said: “Barney is a beautiful dog, and is fantastic company for older people, particularly those who have always has a dog as part of their family and can no longer have one. Much is written about the special relationship dogs can have with people with dementia and the comfort that having a dog around can bring, so it is lovely to be able to support the great work that is being done in the Essence programme.

“It is great to hear how much the people using the Essence Service are enjoying Barney’s visits, and the positive effect he has on people’s mood and sense of wellbeing when he plods into the centre to greet them each week.”

To find out more call 0191 522 1310, email essenceservice@ageuksunderland.org.uk or drop in the Essence Service centre, at the Sir Thomas Allen Centre, Mill Hill Road, Doxford Park, Sunderland, SR3 2ND. For more about Wag and Company North East Friendship Dogs, visit www.wagandcompany.co.uk or contact info@wagandcompany.co.uk.

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