Pets and Pals Volunteer Pat tells me on the phone. I can hear her while she lovingly tries to settle Charlie the dog, who she’s agreed to look after for another volunteer’s neighbour. While we chat on the phone, she tells me Charlie’s snuck in to sit on her knee. “I’m not sure it was a good idea,” she laughs nervously, but to me it sounds like she’s enjoying the cuddle. Pat, from Liverpool, loves dogs, but normally from afar. “I had a dog ten years ago when my son died. Then, the year after, our dog, Mac, died. And, ever since then I can’t bring myself to have one, you know. It was the boys’ dog. I felt like I couldn’t give my heart out to anyone.”
Pat’s eldest son, Gerrard, tragically committed suicide when he was just 31, leaving her grief stricken,
“I had counselling but to be honest it’s just time you need. There’s so many unanswered questions. You just ask questions all the time like, “Why?” But there’s no one to tell you the answer. But we (she lives with her other son now) all stuck together and we are still here, and we are still positive.”
Pat worked for 20 years in a job she loved as an education support worker for blind adults where, impressively, she learnt to read braille. Then under the pressure of budget cuts and increased paper work, she decided enough was enough and retired. The problem then was, like a lot of newly retired people. She needed a purpose in everyday life, not one to just sit there and accept it, she joined a local community choir where she met Richard, the brains behind Pets and Pals, and he invited her on a walk.
This has given me a different slant on life
“I have met so many nice people because of the dogs. It’s all about community and, you know, socialising with the dogs. It distracted me from my problems. These dogs give you love and you start giving it back and that’s lovely.” Pat now volunteers on the Pets and Pals walk every week.
I ask her what difference being part of Pets and Pals has made to her life. “When I was working I couldn’t be a volunteer. So, this has given me a different slant on life.
A few weeks ago, she took her son Chris along for a walk to introduce him to everyone. You can tell she’s really proud of what the group’s doing to help others and the difference it’s made to her life too. She giggles when she tells me about the Dog Show she recently volunteered at. Her job was giving out poo bags, a great ice breaker, while trying to recruit new members.
Charlies is working his doggy magic
Being part of Pets and Pals means she’s been able to enjoy the company of dogs again. Its helped her to slowly mend those parts of her heart that she thought wouldn’t be able to love a dog again. It’s because she was a member of the group that the dog-minding opportunity came up. While we talk, I can tell Charlie, who is a Larparatzo, is working his doggy magic on her. She tells me he’s been giving her licks all through our chat. I imagine him reassuring her while we talked about her son. Dogs are good at knowing when we need a lick or nuzzle. I ask her if she thinks she’ll end up getting a dog?
“My son Chris would love a dog but I just can’t bring myself to get one. I don’t know, it’s all wrapped up in memories.
Whether this will change, that I don’t know. It’s just a work in progress.”
For now, Pat is really happy volunteering and getting her doggy fix through Pets and Pals.
If you would like to join Pat and the other volunteers on their weekly walk in Kensington or find out more about volunteering, please email us or just turn up at the advertised walks and say hi!