"Our funds are significantly down and it's critical we get some new revenue coming in. We're the only visiting dogs charity befriending older dog lovers in their own homes as well as in care"
Diane Morton, chair and founder of Wag and Company
It’s been a sorry tale for many North East charities during this coronavirus outbreak but one regional organisation – a friendship dog charity – refuses to roll over and has changed focus to get through this difficult period.
Wag and Company, which tackles loneliness and isolation among older and vulnerable people in the region, is focusing its efforts on non-contact initiatives to keep in touch with those in need during COVID-19 lockdown measures.
While prioritising attempts to recoup lost fundraising revenue, the charity is being ambitious and continuing to expand its network of more than 400 volunteers and their dogs who visit private homes and 240 care homes across the region - certain of the even greater need for their befriending service for the elderly once social distancing restrictions are lifted.
Since late March, Wag and Company has looked to innovative ways to engage with the vulnerable people they help - around 3,000 across the North East - while also raising money.
Diane Morton, chair and founder of Wag and Company, 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.
“The visits give so many isolated and lonely elderly people in the North East something to look forward too and are a genuine source of friendship for them. A regular chat and dog cuddles over a hot cuppa really do mean everything to some people who have no one else but our volunteers who they come to think of as true friends.
“We’ve had to be really creative to think of the best ways to deliver support in a non-contact way in the knowledge that as soon as we’re told it’s safe enough to resume our visits, we will. We cannot wait to get back to providing that human interaction that so many elderly people across our region are missing so desperately.”
From holding regular FaceTime chats and creating doggie newsletters and photo books to writing letters and doing shopping for those who’ve come to heavily rely on Wag and Company, the charity has also introduced two new initiatives to ensure its continuation when visits can resume.
The Friends of Wag scheme is designed to encourage people - whether that’s an individual, a local business or a care organisation - to regularly donate to the charity to safeguard its future from as little as £5 a month. By becoming a Friend of Wag, people can help support the safe deployment of volunteers by paying for DBS assessments or helping to equip members of the team with their starter packs including their ID or Wag bandana that each volunteer dog wears on their visit.
Walk for Wag Anywhere is an alternative to the charity’s annual Walk for Wag event that’s taken place every September in the Kielder Water and Forest Park since the charity started four years ago. This year, Wag and Company is encouraging dog owners to complete their own 10km or 3km walks anywhere they like - raising much needed funds in the process.
Diane Morton said: “Our funds are significantly down and it’s critical we get some new revenue coming into the charity. We are the only visiting dog’s charity befriending older dog lovers in their own homes as well as in care or in hospitals and we must continue to grow our services so that more people can enjoy the friendship of our volunteers and, of course, the love of a dog.”
Lynn Brennan lives alone in Killingworth and in normal times she is visited by Gemma and Bentley, a springer collie cross breed.
Lynn said: “Gemma and Bentley saved my life. I absolutely love dogs and after I lost my beloved german shepherd, Sasha, I couldn’t have another one because of my health. I was so lonely and depressed but the moment I was introduced to Gemma and Bentley I fell in love with them instantly and because of their regular visits I was able to cancel my weekly counselling sessions.”
“It’s so difficult now though with this virus, I have breathing difficulties and I’m shielded and I’ve found it terribly frightening. I miss seeing them both so badly and cuddling Bentley. Gemma is amazing though, phoning and sending me videos of Bentley and her other dog Stanley all the time. Not seeing them in person is tough but we just have to keep going until this is all over.”
For more information about Wag and Company and its Friend of Wag and Walk for Wag Anywhere initiatives, please visit: https://www.wagandcompany.co.uk/support-us/