Stephanie Loader has had a life-long love affair with dogs.
The Wood Retirement Village resident is a former animal behaviourist, specialising in dalmatians, and even published a book about her days with dogs, Tails to Wag With, in 2016.
However, her ailing health has meant she is no longer able to spend her days running around with her beloved furry friends.
A local organisation is helping rest home residents such as Stephanie fill the pet-shaped hole in their hearts.
Every week, the residents of The Wood are paid a visit by a therapy dog as part of a nationwide initiative called Canine Pet Therapy.
Stephanie says it is a highlight of her week. “I just love getting my hands on the dogs.”
She says she has developed a close bond with the therapy dogs.
“We are good friends, when you build up that relationship it’s really nice.”
The initiative was brought to Nelson six months ago by local dog lover Lili Wenzel, who heard of a similar programme and wanted to do her part.
The Clifton Terrace teacher says her school has a close relationship with The Wood, so it was a natural fit.
Lili says it is a very therapeutic time for everyone. “The dogs and residents are so relaxed after, they just sit and chat with the dogs and pat them, they really light up.”
She says her dogs, Snout and Miss Muppet, know to be gentle with the residents.
“Sometimes when we have visitors they jump up, but they don’t do it here, they are very calm, it’s almost like they know this is not a place to be rowdy, scratchy or barky.”
Lili says the visits put a smile on hers and the residents’ faces, and her dogs also love the experience.
“It benefits me, the dogs and the residents, it’s win, win, win.”
As well as being involved in the Canine Pet Therapy programme, Lili also manages Share my Pet, an online service connecting dog owners with dog lovers, and is in the process of being involved in a Kid Safe programme in local primary schools.
Lili says this is about reducing the number of dog bites in New Zealand. “I’m doing everything I’m passionate about.”
Lili says she hopes that, one day, every rest home has a live-in dog.
“I know if I end up in a home my heart would be longing to see and pat a dog.”