Let your dog take the lead in the fight against loneliness this Christmas

Research shows that loneliness can be just as bad for a person's health as obesity or even smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Yet, heartbreakingly, an estimated million-and-a-half older people up and down the UK will spend this Christmas alone, bereft of family and friends.

Now the dog holiday franchise Barking Mad has teamed up with the charity Age UK to come up with an ingenious initiative aimed at bringing a little festive spirit to local communities this year.

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Barking Mad North East Fife, Dundee and Angus, which is run by Brad Eggleston, is calling on dog lovers in the area – including its own staff, host families and customers – to take their canine friend for a visit to a neighbour who’s alone and help put a smile oon their faces.

“Taking your favourite dog for a visit can be the perfect conversation starter to break the ice with lonely or elderly neighbours this Christmas.,” said Brad.

“It is so easy to be swept along on the relentless tide of commercialism at Christmas but Barking Mad would like to inspire people to realise that the greatest gift they can give their community is time.

“It is a heartbreaking reality that many people will spend Christmas alone. Equally, Christmas can really amplify the desolating effects of bereavement, divorce or illness, as the nation is bombarded by advertising agency images of a seasonal wonderland filled with love and laughter.”

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Age UK, the country’s largest charity for older people, has launched a campaign called ‘No one should have no one at Christmas.’

It says that a staggering 1.2 million people are chronically lonely – a veritable epidemic that has prompted the NHS to offer advice on how to tackle the issue.

“There are lots of ways you can do your bit to help lonely or socially isolated elderly people in your community,” says the NHS Choices website.

“Volunteering for an organisation that supports older people is a key way of helping a lonely or socially isolated older person. But a simple friendly chat or phone call can make all the difference too.”

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We all know we should help reach out to community members who may be spending a Christmas alone.

However, the reality is that it can sometimes feel a little awkward to begin a conversation and you may worry about being perceived as patronising or interfering.

That’s where Barking Mad comes in.

“Dogs are a great leveller and are not influenced by social status,” says Brad.

“Generally if someone is pleased to see them they are delighted to respond. Using your pet, or borrowing someone else’s, is a natural way to spark a conversation, which can lead to really positive interaction. A commonsense approach is obviously required though and the dog must be of suitable temperament.”

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Barking Mad founder and managing director Lee Dancy said: “Great Britain is a nation of dog lovers but sadly, it is not always practical for everyone to own pets.

“It only takes half an hour of your time to visit an individual who’d really appreciate the chance to see and stroke a friendly animal. We hope that through this initiative, we can help ensure that older people feel valued and included at Christmas.”

n For more info, call Brad Eggleston on 01334 880337.

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