Marcel and Java are two adorable corgis with a difference. Not only are they internet sensations, but as registered therapy dogs they spend their spare time putting smiles on the faces of the people they visit!
Visiting the elderly
A study by the British Red Cross last year found that one million older people in the UK feel lonely most of the time. While pet therapy programmes are still not commonly accessible all over the world, research has shown that interaction with animals can reduce levels of stress and depression.
Marcel and Java are both part of TheraPaws, an animal therapy programme organised by the charity Mayhew. The aim is to promote emotional and physical wellbeing in older people. Human and canine volunteers participate in over hundreds of visits each year to care homes, hospices and hospitals to engage with residents.
So, what is it that attracts the pet parents of two famous corgis to volunteer with the elderly? We caught up Marcel and Java’s pet parents to find out.
"We see smiles in people who haven't smiled in ages"- Marcel's mum
What is the best part of volunteering with a therapy dog?
Marcel’s Mum: The best part is being able do something that makes a difference to others, and without having money involved. We do not have much money, what we have is time and love.
Java’s Mum: The best part of volunteering with Java is seeing how happy he can make people feel. Some of the patients that we visit can be bed-bound, unable to speak or maybe speak a language that I don't understand, but the happiness when Java walks into their rooms is unmistakable. A lady that we visited was no longer able to speak but kept pointing at "HAPPY" and "LOVE" on her communication cards.
Do therapy dogs have a big impact on the people they visit?
Marcel’s Mum: Their impact is incredible! The nurses tell us how patients’ behaviour and mood are improved during and after our visits. We see smiles in people who haven't smiled in ages and their visiting family seem to find comfort when we are there too.
Java’s Mum: They have a huge impact on people! Java not only puts a smile on people's faces, many of the patients have also said Java helps take their mind off the pain that they're suffering from. One patient was in tears telling me how lonely he felt on his long journey fighting cancer, but Java gave him the comfort that he desperately needed.
Which different types of people do you visit?
Marcel’s Mum: We visit the elderly (the dementia ward of a hospital precisely) on our regular visits but also often take part in one-offs (such as attending de-stressing sessions at universities or visiting care homes, or even surprising a 102-year-old lady who used to own corgis). This all helps to promote Mayhew’s work.
Java’s Mum: Our regular visits are to a palliative care centre to see patients with life limiting illnesses or complex care needs.
We have also visited depression groups to help people open up and talk about mental health, universities during stressful exam periods, and companies to cheer up their staff.
Why did you decide to start?
Marcel’s Mum: I was looking at sharing / paying forward all the love we get via Marcel’s social media without necessarily involving money. We’d been helping Mayhew with other projects and so I thought why not share the joy of Marcel with others who may need a smile or some cuddles.
I lost a close relative who loved dogs to a degenerative illness recently and joining the program is also our homage to this person.
Java’s Mum: Java has always been a very human-oriented dog. He loves physical contact and was actively seeking out people to comfort. There's an elderly gentleman who sits at a bus stop on the way to our park each morning. Java always walks over to sit with him for a while which makes the gentleman laugh each time, so I thought why not let Java do this for more people since he clearly enjoys it?
How can people get involved?
Marcel’s Mum: The best way is to contact Mayhew’s TheraPaws team, either to discuss being assessed with your dog in London or to help in other ways!
Java’s Mum: If your dog has a calm temperament and enjoys human interaction then get in touch with Mayhew to get assessed!
Marcel is on Yummypets! You can follow his adventures on his profile.
Photos curtesy of Java the Corgi, Marcel le Corgi, & Mayhew