How a dog walk improved the lives of 250,000 people

The Cinnamon Trust works to ease the the problems of the vulnerable who are also pet owners

Photo: Angela Hampton/Rex Shutterstock

Thirty-three years ago Averil Jarvis took her dog for a stroll along the Towans dunes near Hayle, Cornwall. It was a dog walk that would change her and many other people’s lives.

Along the way she met another dog walker and the pair got talking. The lady she met told Jarvis about how worried she was that because she had no family that her pets would be put to sleep when she died. That conversation prompted Jarvis to found the Cinnamon Trust, a national charity dedicated to trying to deal with the pet problems faced by the elderly and terminally ill.

Since it opened its doors in 1985 the trust and its network of more than 12,000 volunteers have helped more than 250,000 people and 300,000 animals in numerous ways from helping out with vet visits, grooming and dog walking for people in need to rehoming pets when their owners pass away or move into residential care homes that will not accept animals. Inevitably dogs and cats form the bulk of the pets the trust works with, but it deals with all animals, including surprising pets like squirrels (see box).

National network of volunteers

“The trust’s primary objective is to respect and preserve the treasured relationship between the owners and pets,” says the trust’s Patrick Williams. “Our national network of volunteers help with any aspect of day to day pet care that the owner can’t manage.”

Caring for the pets is about more than animal welfare, he adds – it helps pet owners too: “It is now widely acknowledged that pets can positively benefit the well-being of owners. For many elderly people living on their own, their pets are the reason for living. They are constant companions, there every day, comforting, loving and protecting their owners from not only outside threats but the more subtle form of protection from loneliness and despair.”

“Pets are warm and intensely loyal. They do not criticise, they boost morale, they reduce stress by providing emotional security and they help provide a fixed routine.

“Pets have the ability to bring happiness, laughter and lift depression.

“The special relationship between the owner and the pet add incalculably to the quality of life, but all the pleasures and benefits are completely neutralised by the intense anxiety regarding the fate of their devoted companion should the owner die, fall ill or have to move to residential accommodation.”

Encouraging pet-friendly care homes

Encouraging residential care homes to be more animal friendly is part of the trust’s mission and one way it is trying to encourage homes to embrace residents’ companions is through its register of pet-friendly care homes. At present the register lists 1,430 homes that have invited the trust to come in and judges whether they qualify as pet-friendly.

“There is a difference between being ‘pet friendly’ and merely ‘pet tolerant’,” says Williams.

“Pet friendly care homes will take a pet whatever the circumstances because they understand that a pet is a family member.

“If an elderly pet owner is too frail to stay in their own home and has to leave behind everything they’ve ever known, having also to be separated from their much loved and needed pet is not only hugely traumatic but unnecessary.”

“The best homes will not only help the resident to look after their pet but, if and when the resident’s condition deteriorates, they will take over pet care full-time so that the resident and pet are able to stay together. Should the pet pass away whilst the owner is in the home, the resident can have another pet if they wish.”

Work with social workers

Outside of residential care, the trust does work with social workers on a case by case basis but most of the time service users contact them directly and the trust sometimes feels that it is hard to maintain a working relationship with social services departments.

“At present the understanding of the importance of pets among social services is very varied,” says Williams. “Usually as soon as social services realise that we are there to help and takes away some of the responsibility of care then this is passed to the trust to deal with and we find it increasingly difficult to get back in touch with the office to find extra help or support. Being able to maintain contact would help with long-term updates and also, if a problem arises, we are then able to let social services know as well.”

Playgrounds for squirrels
The Cinnamon Trust’s Patrick Williams tells how the charity wound up caring for a bunch of squirrels: “When Karen Morrison died, her wish was that the Cinnamon Trust would provide life-long care for her pets. She rescued cats and rescued squirrels – all had been looked after beautifully but there were 18 cats and 9 squirrels.squirrelcinnamontrust1 The cats, apart from one, were all young and easily and obviously split into twos and threes, so we managed to place them all in life-long foster homes. Pixie, the oldie at 17 years old, would come to Poldarves, our sanctuary in Cornwall.“The squirrels, however, were a completely new challenge. Fortunately, Karen’s son-in-law was able to continue to look after them until we made ready. First we had to obtain a licence to keep them and permission to move them from Natural England and then, complying with all statutory regulations, construct a home for them consisting of a large warm indoor home, a big covered patio and a huge outdoor adventure playground.“It was important to us that all their natural behaviours should be catered for and to that end, we set about and completed our task as quickly as the weather allowed. Then, nine little squirrels safely cuddled up in their dreys and one little cat made the journey from Neath in Wales to Cornwall and the rest is history.”

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