Cuddling and wrapping your arms around a dog can give so much joy to someone who may be lonely or missing their own pet.
So when Kevin Matthews was looking for someone to take care of his border terrier Derby a few years ago, he discovered the franchise Barking Mad Pet Care Central Lancashire, which is a paid service whereby volunteers take in dogs while their owners are away or busy.
He loved the scheme so much that when the owner retired in 2014, he took over running the business.
He has many owners and volunteers on his books, who love spending time with dogs.
He says: “I had used the service under the previous owner and when she retired, she asked the volunteers if we would like to take over.
“I was working in retail and wanted a lifestyle change so I was happy to take it on.
Volunteer dog cuddling is being offered by us as an antidote to the problem of loneliness in modern society.Kevin Matthews
“I arrange for dogs to stay with carefully matched host families, as an alternative to kennels when their owners are away.
“Our volunteer hosts are very special people who come to us as they love the opportunity to look after other people’s dogs from time to time to enjoy the companionship without the commitment of ownership.
“Volunteer dog cuddling is being offered by us as an antidote to the problem of loneliness in modern society.
“For those who are retired or work from home and are spending large chunks of time alone, caring for a waggy-tailed companion on a temporary basis and meeting other like-minded dog lovers could really help overcome feelings of isolation.
“Caring for a friendly dog not only provides canine cuddles but also the motivation to go and take a walk at lunchtime.”
The community of Barking Mad host families mainly consists of active retired people and those who either work from home, or have extended periods away from work.
It offers them the opportunity to care for dogs in their own home, while their owners are away on holiday.
Hosts experience all the benefits of dog companionship without the emotional or financial responsibilities of full-time ownership.
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Frances and Jeff Hembrow, of Hoghton, began looking after dogs after they lost their mixed breed Tarq, in 2015.
Frances said: “We felt that we couldn’t take on the responsibility of another dog as we didn’t want to go through losing another pet but we did miss having one around.
“We saw an advert for Barking Mad and rang Kevin. He came to see us to check we were suitable and we got to look after a dog a few weeks later.
“We have looked after a variety of dogs.
“Some stay for two to three days, while others stay for three weeks. I think the idea is brilliant.
“The dogs come in and make themselves at home.
“You get to know their personality and it is great fun.
“It doesn’t matter if you are on your own, or in a couple or larger family, but it is certainly very good for people who are feeling lonely.”
Lynda and Dennis Elliott, of Chorley, have been hosting dogs for five-and-a-half years.
Lynda, 63, says: “We just love dogs. We did have one years ago but now, this is like having your own dog without the responsibility.
“It is a great opportunity if you don’t have a dog and it is nice to offer this service.
“We have had a lot of good feedback and the dogs feel like they have been on their holidays too. There have been a couple of dogs who were quiet on the first day as they didn’t know us, but after that, they were fine.
“The dogs are vetted by Kevin so we know they are happy in other people’s homes.
“When we had to put our dog in kennels, I didn’t like it, so it is nice to offer owners this alternative.”
n To find out more about becoming a Barking Mad host, call Kevin Matthews on 01772 696589 or visit www.barkingmad.uk.com/local/lancashire/central-lancashire