Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Pets care too

June 16th, 2012

WE’RE ACCUSTOMED to the idea that if we have a pet, whether it’s a pony or a gerbil, we must look after it, feeding it, cleaning out its cage, exercising it. The idea that our pets help care for us – Guide Dogs for the Blind, Hearing Dogs, Riding for the Disabled, for instance – is the other side of the caring coin.

I was recently introduced to another service that dogs provide for us humans. Therapets is a visiting scheme run by the Canine Concern Scotland Trust which recruits volunteer dogs and their owners to visit children and people in homes, hospitals and hospices to provide comfort and cheer.

I accompanied Clova and owner Mrs Caroline Hippisley to Whitehills Hospital in Forfar to visit some of the senior patients in Isla and Prosen wards. Clova is a Labradoodle, a cross Labrador and Standard Poodle, and is a regular visitor there.

Welcomed by staff and patients, and clearly quite at home in this caring environment, Clova led the way. There were old friends looking out for her and new patients who welcomed a cheery tail-wagging visit. These visits can be very calming for patients and it’s known that just stroking a dog can help reduce blood pressure.

Time in hospital can be disorientating and long-term patients, in particular, feel isolated. Clova, breezing into their room, and allowing herself to be stroked and petted helps keep them engaged with the ordinary world outside, especially if they have left pets of their own at home.

More information on this interesting Scottish charity is at
www.canineconcernscotland.org.uk

The Scottish SPCA (Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is a household name. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve not known much about their work other than if you mistreated your dog or your pony the Cruelty Man would be called and he could take you to court.

Emily Drummond welcomed me to the society’s Aberdeenshire Animal Rescue & Rehoming Centre at Drumoak, between Banchory and Aberdeen. This is a £2 million purpose built facility opened just a year ago and able to handle a greater variety and number of animals needing help than their other Scottish centres.

Dogs, cats, reptiles, birds, rabbits, horses, ferrets, small furry animals like hamsters that have been injured, abused or are just unwanted – none are turned away. If an animal can’t be rehomed it will stay at Drumoak for the rest of its life.

If you’d asked me a month ago to pick up a bearded dragon I’d have given you a funny look. Emily plonked one of these fierce looking lizards on my arm and Mushu and I gazed at each other in mutual astonishment. She handles them, bathes them and when she strokes them their flanks turn yellow!

Dogs starved, cats abandoned, horses mistreated, four terrapins left by the roadside in a plastic box – it’s hard to understand some of our behaviour towards our pets. Once an animal arrives at Drumoak it is nursed back to health where necessary and is then available for rehoming to caring new owners. No animal is put to sleep except when it is kindest to do so.

The Scottish SPCA is funded entirely by donations and public support. Dog food, cat food, straw, hay, fruit, vegetables and much more is handed into Drumoak daily by generous locals. They can’t get too many newspapers for shredding for bedding.

Welfare aside, much of the focus of the Society’s work is on education – visits to schools and interested groups by inspectors and animal rescue officers to talk about animal welfare and care.

The general public, families and groups are encouraged to visit Drumoak and see the wonderful work they do there, without necessarily wanting to own a pet. You can sponsor a kennel or a hutch for a year and visit whenever you want and see the resident at the time.

The staff, who are assisted by enthusiastic volunteers, come from varied backgrounds but all have at least an HND qualification in animal care.

The Cruelty Man can still take you to court but I’m sure he’d be far happier to see that aspect of his job made redundant because we all cared for our pets and animals properly.

To visit the centre call 03000 999 999 and ask for Aberdeen.

Written on Saturday, June 16th, 2012 at 6:10 pm for Weekly.