Orla and Winifred are best friends

Pet therapy with a dementia-friendly dog

Richard Dawson shares the positive effect that Orla, the dementia-friendly dog, has on his grandmother, Winifred, who lives with dementia.

Richard and his two brothers are very close to both of their grandparents. They lived with their parents and miniature dachshund, Pat, when Richard was growing up, as grandfather Alfred started to experience health problems.

Around 10 years ago, Richard's grandmother Winifred was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after she kept forgetting things. The family noticed how she would chat on the phone then forget who she was talking to minutes later.

Winifred's dementia and other health issues, such as her bad knees, mean that things like going to the shops are out of the question for her. As a result, she can often get frustrated being at home.

Richard recalls the difficulty Winifred has had with her dementia:

‘Nan has good days and bad days and when she is having a bad day it can be really trying, especially for my grandad.

'She can get angry, cry, think people are against her and has been known to do things like break out of the flat her and Grandad live in. The next thing we know our neighbour has contacted us and they have found her wandering the street.’

Winifred’s love of animals led the family to ‘borrow my doggy’:

‘We have a care company coming in Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays to help out, but we wanted to do something on the other days and had read how animals can help people with dementia. We set up an account with borrow my doggy about a year ago.

Winifred with her dementia dog friend Orla

Orla the dog visits Winifred on Tuesdays and Thursdays

'Owning a dog would be too much responsibility on top of caring for my grandparents, so this is the perfect setup. We made a profile explaining our situation and that we were looking for a dog to spend some time with Nan and had had a Daschund growing up.

‘Ann got in touch through the site telling us she had just got a little dog called Orla and would like to meet her. Luckily she lives really close by so she popped round with Orla to meet Nan.

‘Since first meeting, Orla and Nan hit it off straightaway. She lost all of her worry and pain and is just really happy in those couple of hours she spends with Orla on a Tuesday and Thursday.

'Orla will sit on Nan’s lap on the sofa, and she also loves to hold her like a baby - which Orla loves too.

'We have had to keep an eye on Nan feeding Orla as she kept giving her food and then forgetting she had fed her and doing so again. Orla started putting on a bit of weight!’

Winifred and Orla the dementia friendly dog - Orla has a rest

Orla takes a timeout under Winifred’s watchful eye

Orla has had an impact not only on Winifred, but also Alfred and their grandchildren:

‘It works out really well having Orla to visit us as it obviously has a great effect on Nan but also gives my grandad a break from what can be quite a stressful and difficult situation.

'Orla and Ann have also become good friends to us. My brother and I walk Orla, she will sometimes stay here overnight and Ann will let us know she needs a hand on other days and we can often help her out.

‘At first Nan was a bit confused by the set-up of having Orla coming to visit and thought that we had just got a dog ourselves, but now it has become part of our routine.’

Winifred loves holding Orla the dementia-friendly dog like a baby

Spending time with Orla helps reduce pain and anxiety for Winifred

Richard explains how small actions can have a big impact for people affected by dementia:

'Caring for someone with dementia can be very stressful, so campaigns like Dementia Action Week are a great way of reminding you that you're not alone and that thousands of people are facing the same issues as you.

'Hopefully the story of Nan with Orla will help others and highlight how animals have a positive effect on with people living with dementia.'

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Wonderful to see how animals can help people in this way.
What a lovely story to brighten up the day. Animals and people helping each other who could ask for more.

Pets are great for people who live with dementia. The add joy, purpose and meaning. My mom loved her little cat Pia Roma:


I take my dog a shitzu to see my Grandma at least twice a week and she loves spending time with her. She will sit on her knee like a baby. Or lay next to her or sit on her feet . Occasionally my dog has sleep overs which my Grandma loves. We also have to be careful with treats as my Grandma will give my dog a full packet. My Grandma's face just lights up when she runs in to see her.I love it

Such a great story! We just got a rescue dog for this same purpose and it has made a big difference in Mom's day too. He's some kind of chihuahua mix, lovely and patient with Mom, makes her smile all day, and gives me a bit of liveliness on those days when Mom is not doing so good. I'm so happy we got him. It may not be an answer for everyone, but adding a dog to our day has made life more worthwhile!

Heart warming, lovely story.