Sophie and Fenton’s Volunteer Story

During the height of the pandemic, I spent some time working at my local vaccination centres around Suffolk, administering Covid vaccines to members of the public. It was during these busy weekend shifts that I started to gain more insight into some of the physical and mental health challenges that many people face in their day to day lives, and to understand the value that animals bring to those who are more vulnerable in society.

In my ‘normal’ career I am a qualified veterinary surgeon, and when patients asked me what I did as a ‘day job’ the conversation often naturally moved on to talk about their own pets and their importance to them. Many people shared stories about the different ways in which their beloved cat, dog, guinea pig or even budgie had improved their lives. For some of the more vulnerable, isolated patients their animal companion had often been their only company throughout the period of lockdown, and it was clear that many would not have got through this time without them.

Fenton the dog and Sophie
FENTON and Sophie

Not long after I had started at the centre I became aware of the work of Our Special Friends, through their excellent Facebook page. I had been fortunate to be the owner (or ‘dog Mum’ as I believe it’s known these days!) of Fenton, a five year old Irish terrier. I felt that perhaps there were some other people out there who would appreciate meeting him, particularly if they were not in a position to be able to have a dog themselves.

It is difficult to describe in words how much Fenton means to me. He is a true friend; kind and warm-hearted, affectionate, and a furry body to cuddle up on the sofa with at the end of a long day at work. Equally, he makes me laugh most days with his silly antics, swirling round in high speed circles in anticipation of a walk, or barking in apparent jealousy when my husband kisses me on the cheek! He has taught me that even with several years of clinical training under my belt, animals will teach you something new every day, and contrary to what we might think, they can indeed speak – you just have to listen to them in the right way.

Having passed the canine and human assessments, Fenton and I were ‘matched’ by OSF to a lady called Jenny, who lives in Bury St Edmunds. I was somewhat nervous ahead of our first visit, unsure what to expect and whether she would even like us? I need not have worried; after we arrived and sat down all together with a cup of tea, Fenton took a few minutes to sniff around and make himself at home. Seemingly understanding his new role, he quickly settled down at Jenny’s feet, appreciative of some tummy rubs and a small handful of treats. I relaxed, and knew things would be fine at that point.

Over the course of our visits, Jenny has become a friend too, telling me stories about her life and about the pets she was fortunate to have herself growing up and as an adult. I have come to realise the times when she feels like chatting, and those when she would rather just sit more quietly; gently stroking Fenton and telling him ‘you are a special boy, aren’t you’. The condition of Dementia can make it harder for her to remember some things, but she almost always is able to recall his name which I hope is a small indicator of what he brings to her life.

We have really enjoyed the experience of supporting OSF and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in AAA. There is always support available at the end of the phone and there is a very friendly network of people to support you too. I have learned so much working with the charity and
Fenton and I look forward to continuing in our partnership with OSF together.

Fenton lying on the floor with and an OSF client sitting in an arm chair, looking at and stroking Fenton.
Fenton and his OSF client