Too many elderly people are struggling with loneliness. Research released by AgeUK suggests that 1.9 million elderly people feel ignored and invisible, with many going days without seeing or speaking to anyone. It’s a huge issue that we’re struggling to tackle as a society. But one solution that’s working for many is a new initiative called Dog Dates, launched last month in Melton Mowbray. Run by Mars Petcare, the initiative will now launch nationwide to match up elderly people with local dogs to tackle loneliness.
It’s a simple concept. Dogs in the community who need social time and walks will be matched up with nearby older people who need a social connection. The pairs can spend as much time as they need with each other, getting outside and exploring nature, playing, or just relaxing with someone by their side. One senior who took part in the trial of Dog Dates last month, Doreen Barratt, was matched with a one-year-old golden Cockapoo. ‘I live in a flat,’ says Doreen, ‘which is extremely lonely and in the 12 years I’ve lived there it’s become more and more lonely, as previous residents who were my age have moved out of the area and younger people have moved in.
‘Everybody is very nice, but I just don’t have much in commonwith them and they work during the day so no one is around. ‘I wake up in the morning and I think: Oh no, another day. I truly do, it’s horrible.’ Getting paired with a dog has brightened Doreen’s daily life, giving her something to look forward to each morning. ‘It means everything,’ says Doreen. ‘It’s different. It’s living.’ Another person benefiting from the scheme is Jenny, who’s experienced loneliness having separated from her abusive husband, which made her lose trust in people. She was matched with a local family who own a dog, which meant she was able to socialise with not only a friendly dog, but also the family, other dogwalkers, and members of her community.