This blog has been written by Mayhew volunteer Jill Eckersley.
I was pleased to see the new Mayhew re-branding “For dogs, cats and communities”, because being a Mayhew volunteer is as much about people as it is about animals.
I love being with the Mayhew cats and dogs, and have a Mayhew cat myself. Mo has been with me for seven happy years. Whenever I visit, I always want to take at least half a dozen more cats home with me (like many of us, I suspect!). When my neighbours were looking for a kitten, I knew where to send them – and I can report that their adopted cat ‘Kingsley’ is settling in well. But as an Events volunteer, I soon came to realise that Mayhew is about helping people too.
I don’t think we can, or should, make any distinction between helping animals and helping people. You only have to attend a Mayhew event, or see evidence of Mayhew’s outreach work with street people, or the TheraPaws project, to understand how important the bond between people and their animals can be. live in Camden and I often stop to chat with homeless men and women on the street and I always stop if they have a dog with them, as soon many of them do. I am usually told that ‘Towser’ or ‘Ruby’is their best friend, and sometimes, ‘Towser’ or ‘Ruby’ is one of the reasons they are on the street. Many hostels and emergency shelters won’t take dogs, which seems sad.
Then there’s TheraPaws. Mayhew volunteers who take a friendly pooch into retirement, nursing or dementia-care homes have described to me the way residents’ eyes light up when they can see and stroke a dog. Often, even for people whose memory is failing, the visit will bring back memories of pets they loved many years ago.
In 2016 I had a book published called Therapy Pets. Even I was amazed to find how much evidence there is that contact with animals helps people. All kinds of people. The old and lonely, yes, but also disturbed teenagers, prisoners, victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. “Safe touch” is important to all of us, and that’s just what we get from our animals. When the nights draw in, I always look forward to snuggling on the sofa with my Mayhew moggie.
It’s the same at events. Events are not just about fund-raising and promoting Mayhew so that Londoners (and others) know we are here and what we do. When someone approaches the Mayhew stall at an event, I can never predict how the conversation will go. Is this person interested in adopting? Do they want to volunteer like I do? Do they want to buy a Mayhew mug, scarf or bag? But mostly, I find they just want to talk. They will tell you about their own dog or cat, and the one they had before that one, and the one they had as a child, and another one…and they will bring out photos, on their phones or from their wallets. They will ask for advice on dog or cat care and I always have a Mayhew leaflet ready to hand out as these are full of useful information for pet owners! As a volunteer you really need to listen. And smile. And admire the dog or cat!
Volunteering at events is a full-on experience, you can’t look bored or tired. You need to be a ‘people person’ as well as a dog- or cat-lover. Sometimes there’s a sad tale of a recently-departed animal friend, or one who was lost long ago. Sometimes something mysterious happens, like the time I was at the entrance to Mayhew one Open Day and a man drove up to Trenmar Gardens, jumped out of his car, handed me a cheque for £125 made out to Mayhew, and drove off! What that was about, of course, I never knew. I’ve also had the chance to meet animal-loving celebrities, like actor Peter Egan who has six rescue dogs, and the late and lovely Lynsey de Paul, who adored Siamese cats.
Care for animals is what brings us together …but being a volunteer is very much about people, too.
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