Episode 2: Animal Magic

Friday was my second volunteering day for the Ferne Animal Sanctuary. We were to take some animals to a Care Home for elderly people with dementia, which I was looking forward to, even though it was way out of my comfort zone.

I turned up at Ferne, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, only to be told, as I walked through the door, that the lady I was supposed to be assisting was ill (yes, just what happened last time) and, instead, I would be going with Des, another volunteer, and could I just wing it? Bright eyes dimming, bushy tail frizzing, I gulped; ‘Ok. Do I have to do a speech?’ The lovely Louise laughed, ‘No, shouldn’t think so. You’ll be fine. No worries. You’ll need to collect a couple of rabbits, a couple of guinea pigs, and Max the dog before you go.’ Right, then.

New readers, please visit the last blog to discover how simple I find rabbit-wrangling and guinea pig grasping. Luckily, this time there was Des, an old hand. It still took twenty minutes… Collecting Max, the Border Collie, was a different matter. He came out of the office (he belongs to a member of staff), lay on my foot, and turned huge, ‘just tickle behind my ears- yes right there’, eyes at me and I was smitten.

The sitting room in the Home was large and rectangular. To my initial dismay, there were chairs arranged all around the edge, just like on the telly, and sixteen pairs of eyes staring at us in silent expectation. Well, some had actually nodded off, (even before they met me) and a couple snored all the way through, but most were up for a cuddle. I smiled and said hello, wondering if I should say something about the history of Ferne, or about the work they do, but never fear; a smiley nurse asked who wanted to pet an animal – and we were off. No speeches, hurray!

Communicating with people who have dementia is interesting. I told one lady the name of the two rabbits and when they were born three times. They are called Mistletoe and Ivy. The fourth time, she said, ‘Were they born at Christmas, dear?’ It took a little time, but we got there.

Max was popular with everybody- a perfectly behaved pooch. I did worry when a man patted his lap and Max jumped up, lying sprawled across him until Matron had a picture and I made him get down. One lady had never seen or held a guinea pig; she was enthralled, and Poppy was calm and happy to be cuddled, although we should have called her Poopy because she did, often, everywhere. Betty, the long-haired one, was frisky, and was almost scalped when she tried to make her escape and one lady grabbed a handful of her hair to stop her making a run for it. Yes, she did indeed nip me when I captured her and put her back into the box (the guinea pig, not the lady).

I was particularly moved when I gave Poppy to one lady who is deaf and almost blind. The nurse said she rarely communicates anymore, and she had ignored our presence until that moment. She stroked Poppy for almost half an hour, and when the Matron suggested getting a couple for the Home, she joined in the conversation and said that was a good idea. It was her first positive statement in months. Animal magic, indeed.