A Heartwarming Mission That Enriches Lives Through Furry Companionship

by | Feb 2024

PEOPLE ALL over Manchester are experiencing the joys of animal therapy without owning a pet. There’s nothing like taking a break to pet a fur baby, their snuggles providing you with the comfort you need to finish your tasks stress-free. 

Therapy Dogs of Manchester is a dedicated group of individuals joined by a passion for spreading joy and comfort through the therapeutic presence of their furry companions. Among them are Felicia Hardcastle, the founder, and Janice Hambrock, the co-founder. 

Hambrock, a proud citizen of Manchester, found inspiration for the organization through the companionship of her therapy dog, Winston. Her first therapy dog has been certified for four years. Their ability to bring comfort and calmness sparked an idea that would soon transform into a community initiative. 

Upon moving to Manchester, Hardcastle discovered Hambrock’s call on a local forum. She was seeking kindred spirits interested in forming a therapy dog group. With two dogs of her own, Hardcastle eagerly joined the cause. 

Their mission is to spread joy, love, and kindness through the therapeutic touch of their precious fur babies. MacArthur Manor, Legacy, and local elementary schools have all benefitted from snuggle sessions. The group has plans to reach more assisted living and nursing home facilities. 

This organization operates as a free service driven solely by the passion and dedication of its members. The goal is not monetary gain but the enrichment of lives. The residents’ reactions have been nothing short of transformative. The simple presence of these furry friends brightens days. 

Hardcastle highlights the unique bonds forged between assisted living residents and therapy dogs, turning ordinary visits into extraordinary connections that linger long after the dogs have left. 

“You can tell their demeanor just changes the minute that we walk into a room. The dogs interact with them and do little tricks.” 

The impact goes beyond the superficial, with heartwarming stories of improved moods and miraculously recovered memories. 

“We’ve also had a resident who had not spoken in almost nine months, and because of the dogs, she had a memory recall of her dogs in her younger life. The first words that she’d said in almost nine months were, ‘That’s my dog.’ You almost have to be there to see exactly how the interaction is. It’s just pure love, joy, and fun.”

The dogs, in their unique way, become agents of healing.

“I have always known the importance of having an animal. They become part of your family, and they offer great benefits. However, doing this has opened my eyes to alternative ways of dealing with medical issues or mental health issues. It doesn’t always have to be your typical pharmacy visit.” 

In local schools, programs like “Reading with Rosie” have been introduced, where children engage with therapy dogs, reading stories from a canine perspective.

Beyond the joy of reading, children are educated on good doggy etiquette to ensure a safe interaction. The aura that therapy animals bring into the classroom assists in creating a nurturing environment that extends far beyond school grounds.

Scientific research supports what Hardcastle has witnessed firsthand: the therapeutic power of animals, particularly dogs. Studies show a tangible decrease in blood pressure and healing benefits.

“To have someone be able to touch the dog, or the dog to cuddle up with them and love on them — it takes them out of that dark place, maybe for a few minutes, and brings them some light. I have to say, I think it’s better than any pill that any doctor has.”

Hardcastle acknowledges the challenges in getting the community involved. Still, the fulfillment from witnessing the positive impact on both recipients and therapy dogs is immeasurable. 

Looking ahead, the group envisions collaborations with mental health organizations, recognizing the potential for their unique brand of therapy to complement conventional approaches.

The dogs revel in their roles as happiness ambassadors, showing delight with wagging tails, eager to form that connection.

“I like to say that the dogs are happy pills, and they’re never sad.”

Passion is the driving force behind this organization. The shared dedication of its members fuels a collective desire to make a difference in the lives of those they touch. GN

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