FROM hospital patients and care home residents to homesick students, man’s best friend is playing a vital role in lifting spirits across the North-east.
Over the past three decades, hundreds of dog owners have helped put smiles on faces, all thanks to their pet pooches.
Linda MacDonald is the area representative for dog charity Canine Concerns in Aberdeen.
Since 1988, the voluntary group has worked with dog owners to arrange visits with people in need of care.
Linda, from Bridge of Muchalls, started working for the charity in 1999.
She used to take her Golden Retriever, Fergus, to visit residents at a Stonehaven care home.
She said: “I did it simply because I loved my dog so much.
“He brought me so much joy and happiness that I wanted to share that with those who needed it more than me.
“On our visits to the care home, Fergus would go and mingle with the residents, giving them a paw, letting them pet him, just generally being loving.
“For many of the elderly people, Fergus was their only friend – they had no one else.
“He used to love getting his jacket on and heading out for work, he enjoyed it just as much as everyone he visited.”
Canine Concern currently has around 40 volunteers in the North-east.
However, demand for the popular pooches is on the rise, so the charity is now keen for other dog owners to consider signing up.
Linda said: “It can be any breed of dog. We have everything from Labradors and Beagles to Border Collies and even a huge Newfoundland.
“It just needs to have a nice relaxed temperament and be good with people.”
Lesley Gray, a former staff nurse from Danestone, regularly takes her dog Harry to visit hospital patients. She started volunteering with Canine Concern after seeing the difference the service made to her son when he was unwell.
Lesley said: “Scott was in hospital and afterwards he was in a wheelchair for a while.
“One day when we were out and he bumped into a man from Canine Concern walking a massive dog around and it really just lifted his mood so much.
“I started volunteering with our dog Harry shortly after that.
“Together we’ve been to wards at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the Sick Kids Hospital too.”
Volunteers are booked in to visit a specific ward on each visit so all patients get some time with the dogs.
NHS Grampian Unit Operational Manager Carole Ledingham said: “Being able to bring man – and woman’s – best friend on to the wards makes an enormous difference to our patients and staff. We have a great partnership with Canine Concern and the therapets are always welcome visitors.”
Lesley hopes to get her new pooch Cricket trained up and on the wards within the next six months
She said: “It’s just a lovely thing to be able to do, especially when some people in hospital are so sick and they get a little bit of cheer.
“The companionship dogs offer, even if just for a few hours with people, really makes a difference.”
And in a bid to bring some cheer to the city’s students, the charity are hosting their second Paws Against Stress event in December.
Last year more than 300 students from the University of Aberdeen came to see the Canine Concern dogs.
This year the charity is rolling the event out to students at Robert Gordon University too.
Linda said: “They loved getting to spend time with our dogs, especially around exam time when they are stressed out.”