Having a pet is life changing - any owner will tell you that
But some animals are going beyond being cute and cuddly.
Purina recognises the people behind game changing initiatives taking place around the world through their Better With Pets Forum.
This week the pet food brand gave prizes totalling £75,000 to support five different causes at an event in Barcelona where each project pitched to win the prize.
We hear a lot about entrepreneurs - people who come up with innovative money making ideas - but this was to celebrate social entrepreneurs - people who simply want to improve the lives of others.
Bernard Meunier, CEO of Purina explained: “We wanted to create a network of powerful connections to make change happen, together.
“We believe that this forum will become a catalyst for change, enabling richer lives for pets, the people who love them and our communities.”
Sofie Brouwer, Founder of the OOPOEH Foundation was the winner, and the judges were so blown away by all of the pitches they awarded her £30,000 prize and £11,000 to each of the projects.
Listening to them was humbling. They are so driven and passionate about making people’s lives better - through pets.
Sofie Brouwer created OOPOEH to tackle loneliness in the elderly
OOPOEH stands for Opas en Omas Passen Op Een Huisdier which translates as Grandmas and Granddads Caring For Dogs. How lovely is that?
Sofie was inspired to set up her enterprise in Amsterdam after chatting to her elderly neighbour Sonja while out with her dog Buffel.
Sonja was a dog lover but didn’t have one of her own, and often felt lonely so Sofie said she could care for Buffel. It dawned on her that many elderly people might feel the same.
So she set up a website connecting them to owners and she now has 33,000 seniors and 35,000 dogs who bring joy into their lives.
Sofie said: “Loneliness is a great problem in Amsterdam for the over 55s. A report found a million people said they felt lonely and a fifth of those very lonely - they only saw someone once a month.
“We connect people from different backgrounds who come together through their love of dogs. The dogs enjoy seeing the senior person and they enjoy the benefit of having a pet.
“We arrange trips and outings and a lot of friendships have come from people meeting through caring for dogs. The prize means so much for us and we are so pleased.”
A social impact report by Price Waterhouse Cooper found 71 per cent of their sitters exercised more, 82 per cent felt happier and 72 per cent interacted more with their neighbours. Find out more at www.oopoeh.nl
Sofie when her name was announced as the winner! © Robert Watson
Marie Yates is the founder of Canine Hope which helps rape survivors
Marie, from Herefordshire, drew from her own experience as a rape survivor to write the fiction novel, Reggie and Me, about the journey of a teenage girl and her rescue dog.
It got her thinking - if her own dog had helped her recovery other dogs could do the same. She set up Canine Hope partnering people who had experienced sexual violence with rescue dogs.
Marie shared a heartwarming story of Bruno, a dog who was so badly abused by his owners he lost his leg.
She said: “Bruno has three legs. He had to have his leg amputated after he was kicked and stamped on by two grown men. Did he bite them? No.
“Did he bark? No. Did he run away? No. Instead, when the police raided the house they found him cowering behind the sofa.
“Bruno and many dogs like him help people understand it’s the perpetrator who is to blame by allowing them to understand things through the perspective of a dog.”
Marie’s story moved me to tears. Via Canine Hope, she’s helped 200 people and thousands more through her books.
Every town in the UK has a rape crisis centre and a dog shelter, and she wants them to collaborate, so the dogs learn to socialise and help the humans in their recovery, building resilience, accepting they’re not to blame and teaching them to live in the moment.
She plans to grow her project nationwide and she would LOVE to hear from rescue centres interesting in supporting her at canine-perspective.com/canine-hope/
Dr Claire Guest set up Medical Detection Dogs after learning animals could sniff out cancer
Medical Detection Dogs in Milton Keynes is a charity many are familiar with. Claire recently met the Queen to celebrate their tenth anniversary.
Along with her colleagues, she’s trained over a hundred dogs, many from terrible backgrounds. One, Faith, was saved from a Korean meat farm last year, another, Zen, is from Battersea Dogs Home.
Claire trained dogs to detect cancer and her own dog Daisy who sadly died earlier this year warned her that she had breast cancer. Her early diagnosis saved her life and Daisy’s legacy lives on.
She applied for funding for a new project training dogs to detect Parkinson’s. It’s an illness Claire has personal experience of and the dogs can detect the odour from a swab taken from the neck and forehead.
“Dogs are bio sensors only with a fluffy coat, a waggy tail and a wet nose,” she said. “We believe dogs can change the face of human medicine.
“We hope seeing how the dogs can help with early detection of Parkinson’s - usually 50% of the brain is irreparably damaged when the person is diagnosed - will lead to advances in treatment.
“This will help keep families and their dogs together, all through the incredible power of their noses.”
Learn about her work at www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk
One of the adorable four legged guests! © Robert Watson
Marlies and Betty allow prisoners to train rescue dogs with Dutch Cell Dogs
Betty Buijtels and Marlies de Bats take dogs who have been abused and neglected into prisons and, alongside behaviourists, the inmates train the animals so they’re able to be rehomed.
The project helps resocialize the dog and the prisoner and since setting up ten years ago, 511 dogs have been trained and found forever homes.
Betty and Marlies and their team of nine trainers work in 14 prisons and 13 asylums in the Netherlands with dogs from ten different rescues and it takes eight weeks to train each dog.
Inmates say training the dog increases their feeling of self worth and boosts confidence, and nine out of the ten dogs in the programme have been successfully rehomed.
In a letter shared at the forum, prisoner Jan explained what helping a dog meant to him. He said: “You do so much good work. Not just to give us convicts and the dogs a place of love and trust.
“But also to offer a future owner happiness. That is what you do, leaving behind a trail of happiness, not putting yourself first but the dog.
“With your help, we gave the dogs what was taken from them. By offering us your program, you offer us bridges towards a new future.”
Find out more about their work at http://dutchcelldogs.nl/
Uta and Meike take dogs into the classroom with Happy Kids With Happy School Dogs
Uta Keilau and Mieke Heyer pooled skills as a teacher and behaviourist and created a project in Germany to help children learn to read by taking dogs into schools.
Being in a classroom can be stressful but they ensure dogs are treated very carefully. They have a safe space where children can’t approach them and spend a maximum of 45 minutes in class.
You’d expect the kids to go wild at the sight of a pup, but Uta showed a video of a dog at work and the children were impeccably behaved and thrilled to have a four legged classmate.
Explaining the positive impact dogs have on learning, Uta said: “One boy, Ben, was highly frustrated and had experienced many academic failures.
“We worked on a one to one basis with a dog called Lex. Slowly, Ben grew to trust me as Lex’s owner. He enjoyed his time with Lex and agreed to learn to read.
“Lex enabled Ben to learn and after two years he was at the same level as his fellow pupils and school is no longer stressful but a happy place.”
Learn more at www.k9-hundekunde.de
I hope this leaves you feeling as inspired as I was at the heartwarming and incredible ways dogs are changing lives all over the world.
Purina’s hashtag is #wearebetterwithpets and you can read about their commitments to pets and people at www.purina.co.uk
If you enjoyed this, you might like to read Pets, tech and the future: Six things I learned at Better With Pets or you can find out about Shadow, who was rescued with Medical Detection Dog Faith in Meet Shadow, the pup rescued from a South Korean meat farm.