Volunteer Profile : Meet Friendship Dogs Finn & Alfie and Steph

Hello!  My name is Steph.  I’m an ex-primary school teacher, who is looking forward to taking my teacher’s pension later in the year, but am currently working part-time as a dog-walker as well as my many voluntary working roles with a local swimming club, a dementia charity and of course Wag and Co.

I began my amazing Wag Journey with one dog, but I now have two dogs with multiple placements.

Here’s my story, I’ll try and keep it short!

Dogs were not part of my life until my late teens / early twenties, when Rory – a gorgeous Golden Retriever – came in my life in 1983.  His late arrival was partly due to my childhood asthma.  Rory was an 18th birthday present for my sister, who had always wanted a dog.  We cherished every moment we had with him until 1996.

Many years later, and following graduation, work, marriage and two children, it was time to take the plunge myself.  For me, a Golden Retriever was the only option.  Alfie joined us in December 2013.  My youngest child was heading off to secondary school the following year, I was teaching part-time and it just seemed the perfect opportunity.  Whilst visiting his litter for the 2nd time, I was informed I could choose a puppy.   Two dogs were brought out. The first puppy raced around shaking everything he could find.  The 2nd puppy had a bit of a sniff, sat at my feet and looked up at me with his big brown eyes!  Guess which one I chose?  Yes, Alfie, the gentle soul with a real character, my constant companion and such a gentleman.  He became everybody’s friend!

Why did I join Wag & Co?    The story continues……..

During the Christmas break of 2018, aged 5, Alfie decided to chase a squirrel in our local park and disappeared off in to the trees.  He ended up damaging his cruciate ligament during the chase.  Following his surgery, recovery seemed to be going well, but sadly the other one went 3 months later. With massive muscle wastage, his rehabilitation took up a lot of my time.
Gone were the 10 mile walks and high-impact activities and enter hydrotherapy and managed exercise.    I decided Alfie needed something else to occupy his time and continue to give him a good quality of life alongside his managed exercise plan.  I knew what a gentle, sociable chap he was, so started researching options.  Later in 2019, we began the application process with Wag & Company.

It was a pretty straight forward process and I already knew a variety of placements I could visit – a local care home and a dementia charity that I had already started volunteering for in another capacity.  We took up these placements immediately.  Alfie took to it like a duck to water.

Then Covid curtailed our visits.  During our outdoor exercise allocation each day, I started taking photos of our walks.  I then used the photos to create A5 sized photo books for the lovely people we visited.  They were delivered every 8 weeks and I tried to develop themes in each edition, which became very popular.  I also printed off some A5 post cards of Alfie with a positive message on the back for the Dementia charity we supported so that they could add them to their care packages they were delivering.  I called them ‘Something to make you Smile’ – I created 9 editions in the end!

2021 brought us hope of returning to visits and we were offered a ‘home’ placement with Doreen. The lovely Doreen was a widow, who lived locally to us and was living with mild dementia.  She had a wicked sense of humour, was a great source of knowledge when it came to local history and used to own a Bassett Hound called Bassie.  This was definitely Alfie’s favourite placement.  He made himself at home and the relationship he established with Doreen was priceless.  Toast, treats time and their little chats were pure entertainment.  I used to sit back and let the pair of them enjoy each other’s company.

During this difficult time, we also spread the ‘Wag Love’ to support a young lady called Ellie, using Alfie and the photo books as our focus.  The bond was immediate and Ellie now has her own dog and is a visiting ‘Wag Team’ alongside her mum, but that is a truly inspiring story for Ellie to tell!!

Later that year, my 2nd Goldie arrived in the shape of Finn, a young Turkish Rescue.  I knew from the day I met this cuddly teddy bear that he would join Wag & Co.  It took a lot of hard work to settle him in, but in the summer of 2022 Finn passed his temperament assessment and began visiting the local care home as well as the dementia cafes.

Sadly, Doreen passed away in January 2023, which was very upsetting, but we were honoured to be invited to her funeral, where the whole family made it clear how much they appreciated our involvement in Doreen’s later years.    Alfie did us all proud that day!

It is difficult when you lose a Wag Friend, but we can now smile about the lovely memories we have made.  We now have a new home placement and are developing relationships with our new Wag Friends.

Personally, our lives have been transformed since becoming part of the Wag Family.  I love chatting to people, seeing my dogs interact with our friends and I get immense pleasure from seeing the smiles the second the front door opens.  My boys are naturally smiley boys and their expressions are infectious!   I enjoy supporting Wag & Co whenever I can, particularly at fundraising and corporate events, where our dogs are the stars!

Our Wag Dogs do an amazing job.  Wag Teams REALLY DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR COMMUNITIES.