The importance of companion animals during coronavirus lockdowns

Gemma Fowle and Lynn Brennan before the lockdowns with Bentley on Lynn's lap

ANALYSIS AND COMMENT: this is a story from the North of England which highlights the service that companion animals such as cats and dogs provide to people. It is useful to remind ourselves of it. There’s an excellent charity in the north of England called Wag & Company, which organises meet ups between lonely, isolated people and dogs and their handlers. Their visits do no end of good for these people. And there are many people like them. It is staffed, as expected, by volunteers such as Gemma Fowle and her dog Bentley a nine-year-old spaniel collie cross.

Gemma Fowle and Lynn Brennan before the lockdowns with Bentley on Lynn's lap

Gemma Fowle and Lynn Brennan before the lockdowns with Bentley on Lynn’s lap. Photo: Wag & Company.

Lynn Brennan is 69 years old living in Killingworth, Newcastle upon Tyne. She lost her husband 11 years ago and lives alone. Unfortunately she suffers from multiple health issues and is therefore very vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic. As a consequence she is confined to her home. She loves dogs but is unable to care for one because of ill health.

She describes Gemma Fowle and Bentley as “my family”. They visited regularly before the lockdowns. The charity has had to find different ways to allow their clients to enjoy the company of companion animals since this horrendous pandemic has blighted the lives of people across the UK and of course in many other countries.

The charity has worked tirelessly to make sure that their “older friends” can take the benefit of a connection with companion animals. They do this in a contactless way which is obviously far less good but it’s a substitute under these dire circumstances. The charity founder and chairperson, Diane Morton, said, “It’s truly tragic that our Wag teams haven’t been able to carry out their regular visits in the last three months, but obviously everyone’s health and safety must come first.

She said that the visits, “give so many isolated and lonely elderly people in the north-east something to look forward to and they are a genuine source of friendship for them.”

In addition to contactless visits between volunteers and the lonely elderly, they also provide a shopping service and hold video calls and publish newsletters and distribute photo books. Lynn Brennan said that the charity saved her life. She said, “Gemma and Bentley saved my life. I absolutely love dogs and after I lost my beloved German Shephard, Sasha, I couldn’t have another one because of my health. I was so lonely and depressed…..”

Until, that is, she was introduced to Bentley and Gemma. She fell in love with them instantly. They made a real connection and gets on tremendously well with them. She misses being able to cuddle Bentley.

The charity has launched two fundraising initiatives. They like people to donate regularly to ensure that the charity can continue to work in the future. They are seeking donations of £5 a month. They have a Friends of Wag scheme with this goal in mind. Many charities across the countries are financially stressed due to the pandemic.