It’s often said that a dog is a man’s best friend.
And that relationship of loyalty and companionship between Adrian Ashworth and his four woolly huskies is no exception.
The prodigious, wolf-like dogs with piercing blue eyes make them an unusual candidate to comfort and calm people but Adrian’s fluffy family – made up of seven-year-old Stormy and her three puppies, Thunder, Thor and Binny Boo – are registered therapy dogs.
Trained to help people with dementia, memory loss or simply those in need of a friend, the dogs have been helping people at Sheffield’s Parson Cross Memory Cafe.
Adrian said: “People with dementia and memory loss can’t look after animals of their own anymore.
“My dogs lift the spirits of people. Having them there gives them back five minutes of being a child again and gives them a talking point and a focus.
“It’s amazing. When you first walk in everyone is very quiet. Dementia can be a very lonely illness. But after seeing and petting the dogs they start talking about dogs they had when they were kids or the dogs their family members own.”
Adrian noticed the dogs’ calming effect after his dad was diagnosed with dementia three years ago.
“When my dad came down to my house I noticed that one of the dogs, Thunder, kept coming up to him. When Thunder was outside playing, he would come in and check on my dad constantly. It was like he knew,” he said.
Thunder was invited to the Memory Cafe, which is aimed at supporting people with early stage memory loss, to meet the group, with whom he left a lasting impression.
Louise Askew, administrator of the Parson Cross Forum, said: “Everyone loved it. It was absolutely amazing. Thunder was very well behaved and everyone just thought he was beautiful – they wanted to take him home.
“Adrian knows what a difference it makes to have a dog around. Dogs know when something is wrong and they’ll come up and try to comfort you. They sense how a person is feeling. Stormy was so compassionate and so calm around everyone here.
“It’s the first time we’ve done it but we would definitely do it again in the future.”
Adrian, of Barnsley, who walks the dogs between 10 and 15 miles every day added: “All my dogs want is to be loved and love somebody. They love being stroked, cuddled and getting all the attention. And the great thing is that the person giving them love gets it all right back.”