Fife charity offers pet therapy for young people

Pets at Home Foundation have supported Glenrothes charity Muirhead Outreach Project to launch a pet therapy pilot.

The Muirhead Outreach Project received funding to the effect of £2000 to set up the pilot, which will support six young people with their mental health.

Amy Angus, Pets at Home Foundation charity manager, said: “The Muirhead Outreach Project is a very worthy recipient of our grant.

“The funds will allow the charity to continue their excellent work. It is a real privilege to be able to support them.”

Lucy and Laura and Amigo, a former office dog, at Muirhead family fun day. (Photo: Robbie Preece)

With stress factors at a high and investment in the public at a low, the Muirhead Outreach Project provides early intervention before families reach crisis point.

It identified several barriers to children accessing support for their mental health.

These included parental perceptions and cost, as well as rising waiting lists. Having worked with the families and identified their needs, the project realised they needed to provide young people with therapeutic support.

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Dennis, the Muirhead Office Dog (Photo: Robbie Preece)

The chair of Muirhead trustees formerly worked in a secure unit and developed a proposal for dog therapy for the patients there.

She felt this would be beneficial to anyone who was recovering from trauma.

As most of the staff at Muirhead have dogs – and they are often in the office – they have seen the positive impact that interaction with the dogs has on the young peoples’ emotional state.

The involvement of animals in the treatment and well-being of patients has been documented now for many years. Serotonin levels rise after interaction with animals, especially dogs.

Muirhead Outreach Project has been supported by Pets at Home Foundation.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which is crucial in psychological wellbeing. A lack of serotonin is linked to depression.

There are also measured increases in oxytocin – sometimes referred to as the ‘love hormone’. Merely stroking an animal reduces heart rate and elevates the mood.

Janine Norris, Muirhead’s charity development officer, said: “Therapy can help young people deal with issues and events and the effects they are having on their mental wellbeing.

“It can address problems with anxiety, bereavement; bullying, anger, relationships, low self-esteem, and self-harm which are all issues the children we work with are facing.

“Due to extreme waiting lists and being financially unable to access private care, we know that ingress to a counsellor would have enormous benefit to these children and young people.

“We know that early intervention is key to help them avoid further problems in the future, allowing them to achieve their potential, have increased well-being, an increased sense of belonging and a better quality of life.

“We are thrilled with this grant from Pets at Home Foundation and excited about our pilot therapy project.”