Registered Charity No. 1156778

Human Welfare and How Animals Help

The benefits of animal companionship for human wellbeing are well-known. Our pets can help keep us active and give us an opportunity to 'de-stress'; they provide an outlet for our desire to nurture and care for another being and they provide unconditional love and stability in an increasingly complex world.

For many of us, pets are much loved companions but for vulnerable or isolated people, they can be a lifeline. They provide friendship, security and continuity if the relationship is appropriate, mutually beneficial and well supported.

Based on her own life experience, vet Belinda Johnston was inspired to set up Our Special Friends to help ensure that vulnerable people could continue to benefit from the companionship of animals through the most difficult of times.

Belinda Johnston with Rolo
Belinda Johnston with Rolo

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The support we provide is tailored to the individual needs of those we help but we focus on offering practical and emotional support to help those going through difficult times by:

  • providing dog-walking or accompanied walking via our volunteers or others
  • offering advice and practical support via our volunteers to enable a pet to stay with its owner
  • arranging regular visits from a volunteer with their own dog
  • providing support around bereavement and acknowledging the impact of loss
  • sourcing, introducing and monitoring a new pet.

The help we give is not limited to dog and cat owners. We also work closely with horse owners facing challenges in caring for their animal or coping with the loss of a much-loved horse.

Sometimes, through our work, we identify health and social needs that are currently not being met. Through our relationships with affiliate organisations in human health and animal welfare, we try to ensure that these additional needs are met.

We raise awareness of the benefits of the human-animal bond and the impact of loss and bereavement, whether human or pet. We provide advice and support pre-, during and post-bereavement in partnership with other support services as appropriate.

We also encourage advance planning for the care of animals to give owners peace of mind so that the welfare of their pet will be maintained, should anything happen to them.

We help people and their animals regardless of their age and where they live. Often, we help individuals with mental or physical frailty who have, or have had, pets as companions, but who can no longer keep them – or need support to keep them.

We support individuals of all ages who are socially isolated, vulnerable or bereaved. Some of our clients have been recently divorced or widowed. Some have had partners move into residential care. Others have recently lost their pet and are anxious to fill the void.

Our service is currently focused in Suffolk and our vision is a nationwide service so that more people and animals can benefit.

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Clients contact us directly or are referred to us by friends or family members or by other support or welfare organisations – human or animal. 

We work closely with the St Nicholas Hospice Neighbour Scheme and other befriending and community groups.Once we are briefed about an individual who may need our help, we undertake an assessment, initially by telephone or email, and follow up with a visit if possible. This enables us to find out what is needed and we can then develop a support plan for the individual, working in partnership with other organisations or family members as appropriate.

The support we offer includes:

  • Emotional and practical support, delivered using local trained and supported members of the community and affiliate organisations
  • Identifying relevant resources and services and signposting them to potential clients, their families and carers
  • Offering advice on respite care, fostering, rehoming and pre-bereavement planning to help clients make informed and appropriate decisions
  • Researching and identifying appropriate companion animals, monitoring them and providing follow up support
  • Dog walking, either directly via our volunteers or via other affiliate organisations
  • Visiting individuals at home with a volunteer and their dog (this is known as Animal-Assisted Activity).
  • Offering accompanied walks via our volunteers either with an existing pet or a visiting pet
  • Looking for ways to reduce essential pet costs, such as veterinary fees
  • Encouraging the presence and maintenance of wild bird feeders with maximum visibility, easy viewing and regular stocking by volunteers or neighbours
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