Esther Jean tells a great 'tail' about the benefits that an hour of volunteering can bring to a community.

If you have a dog who loves to be the centre of attention and has a cuddly nature then why not get them trained as a therapy dog?

Esther Jean O’Kane is the proud handler of Scampus Maximus (Scamp), who is adored by the children of Little Angels School.

There are just three therapy dogs in Donegal and Esther Jean is hoping to expand the local team this year. Therapy Dogs act as fluffy friends for children with special needs, nursing home residents, hospice patients and day centre attendees.

“It would be great to see more in such a large county,” Esther Jean told Donegal Woman.

Therapy Dogs provide a calming and soothing presence and a mood booster for many people.

Esther Jean’s dog Scamp cuddles and entertains at Little Angels during his weekly visits, which benefit the pupils in many ways.

Esther Jean and Scamp visit Little Angels Letterkenny

Ether Jean said: “A lot of the kiddies are non-verbal so they love caring for Scamp and petting him and giving him treats. A lot would have a fear of dogs too, so bringing one into their zone helps them get over that fear for when they meet dogs out in public.

“If a child doesn’t have the capacity to have a dog at home this is a great way to get them socialised with dogs.”

Esther Jean O’Kane, Sinead Crawford and Conor Crawford with therapy dog Scamp and Bowie, who was rehomed from the dog pound, at a fundraising event in July 2017

Esther Jean is a Lifford native who runs a horse riding centre in Churchill. This volunteer work combines the best of both worlds for her as she loves working with children and animals.

Many other Donegal homes and centres could benefit if there were more therapy dogs, Esther said.

“People in care homes cannot have dogs so when you bring a lovely cuddly dog into them they really do benefit,” she said.

“Being a therapy dog suits dogs who love to be cuddled and love attention. All sizes can apply but there are a few restricted breeds such as Dobermans and Rottweilers.”

Esther Jean and Scamp

Dog owners can apply by registering with Irish Therapy Dogs. There is a €25 donation fee involved per year, which is the only cost involved.

Dogs and their handlers are then invited for an assessment to show their obedience to basic commands. Volunteers are assigned a visiting centre close-by and there are annual meetings to check up on progress.

Esther Jean says there are many personal benefits for the handlers too. “It is completely voluntary so it is great for your CV to show you do charity work and are giving something back to the community. It’s an hour a week that helps people in so many ways.”

Esther Jean is hosting an information day and fundraiser outside Tesco at the Letterkenny Shopping Centre on Friday, February 2nd from 2.30-5.30pm.

If you are interested in training your dog to be a therapy dog visit for more information.