Helping you to get the most out of our region

Local pets: Joy the Spaniel

22nd September 2020

Amander Meade meets Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog Joy, an English Springer Spaniel, and her owner Aimee Mearkle

In the manner of a royal baby, Joy’s destiny was taking shape even before she was born. Aimee Mearkle and her husband Rick love English Springer Spaniels and thoroughly researched ethical breeders before eventually meeting both Joy’s parents at home on a smallholding in Suffolk. Completely satisfied that both were family dogs, the couple ordered a puppy. Joy was one of 11 pups and took up residence with her new owners at 12 weeks old. ‘I already had volunteering for Pets For Therapy (PAT) in mind, as I had heard about the charity and correctly thought it would be immensely rewarding,’ remembers Amy. ‘I have loved dogs all my life and know how much Joy they can bring – hence her name.’

Aimee’s English Springer Spaniel, Joy

PAT dogs have to be assessed at a year old to establish their suitability, but Aimee was confident that Joy’s calm disposition would stand her in good stead. ‘The test involves the dog being happy to sit and stay with the owner out of sight, as well as being calm around sudden noise, multiple-stimuli and not being afraid of equipment such as wheelchairs and crutches etc. Aimee asked the charity for a posting to the applicant that had been waiting the longest, and, having passed her test, Joy was given a first assignment at a residential home for individuals with cognitive decline. ‘The home had been waiting four years for a Pets for Therapy dog, and the team and residents there were so delighted to meet Joy. Some residents were keen to be involved; others less so. Joy visited rooms meeting and greeting and even getting onto the beds of some residents who were unable to get up. The staff enjoyed our visits as much as the residents for sure.’

‘I get so much pleasure from sharing our lovely dog with people who treasure her company.’

Joy’s owner, Aimee Mearkle

Following a house move, Joy and Aimee became involved with a school in Cambridgeshire for students aged between 7 and 19 years, with special educational needs and disabilities. Joy’s weekly visits began as just one afternoon, but the requests to spend time with her were so prolific that she now spends a whole day at the school with a break to rest between morning and afternoon sessions. ‘The students adore Joy,’ reports Aimee. ‘They play with her, cuddle her, read and talk to her as well as sometimes just sitting quietly with her. When Joy’s special harness goes on, she knows she is in “work mode”, and I am always there at the end of her lead.’

To anyone considering finding out more about Pets As Therapy – pets can include rabbits and other animals – Aimee advises careful thought. ‘Volunteering regularly is a big commitment, as the organisations make arrangements around you. It’s a quiet process – it’s not you that is the star but your pet. I have found it immeasurably rewarding just as I had hoped. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference. With the cognitive-decline residents, Joy would stimulate memories of childhood pets never previously expressed, and the tactile element is important too. One young man at the school just lies quietly snuggled with Joy, and it brings him so much peace. I get so much pleasure from sharing our lovely dog with people who treasure her company. Truly sharing the Joy.’

About Pets As Therapy

Pets As Therapy is a national charity aiming to enhance health and wellbeing in the community through the visits of trusted volunteers with their behaviourally assessed animals. They provide a visiting service in hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues all across the UK.

petsastherapy.org