The last few weeks have been so busy at LIFE but all for a very good reason and tonight I’m very happy to be sharing what’s been going on with you.
As well as being a Holistic Therapist, I also work part-time at a local dog rescue and charity: SHAK (Safe Homes and Kindness) which offers abused, mistreated, and neglected dogs a safe place to live.
Often the special dogs who arrive at SHAK have found themselves due to be put to sleep through no fault of their own; SHAK acts like a safety net so they don’t lose their life and offers them space and time to recover, heal and learn how to be a dog once again.
Most of our dogs are large breeds like German Shepherds, American Bull Dogs, Rottweiler’s and Akita’s although we help all different sizes of dog including Husky’s, Grey Hounds and Lurcher’s as well as Collie’s, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and we currently have our very own resident Jack Russell, ‘Little Bobby’!
SHAK is a very unique charity offering sanctuary to dogs from all across the country who may have health or behavioral issues that can sometimes stop them from being able to live in the modern world.
Some SHAK dogs eventually find their ‘Forever Home’ and reintegrate into society whereas others live out their days in the relaxed and secure Northumbrian countryside.
With over 40 dogs in our care, we pride ourselves on looking after our dogs with a passion and we enjoy thinking about enriching every life as much as possible with at least two walks every day, adding supplements to their meals, regular grooming, and day trips out to the beach or countryside. We also have a Sensory Room which offers a quiet escape for cuddles on the sofa, treat searches, and games to engage their brains.
The facilities haven’t always been so impressive and a lot of hard work, donated time, craftmanship, and supplies over the past few years has really catapulted the rescue to another level.
One of our biggest achievements so far has been improving a large outdoor run which now offers outdoor kennel space, a relaxed place where dogs can run free or lie down and take in some rays of sunshine. More recently some brilliant agility equipment has been fitted which offers our dogs the opportunity to spend time training and interacting with staff and volunteers making kennel life more interesting and fulfilling.
This brings me to the reason for this post…..
To continue developing the outdoor run we have been planning a unique Sensory Garden. This idea has been in the planning for more than a year now due to COVID-19 so it's all the more exciting to see things starting to happen.
The next step is to fill the run full of beneficial plants and herbs based on Zoopharmacognosey: a science whereby animals seek out plants and other natural remedies like oils and clays to self-medicate when they feel unwell so they can heal. (See https://www.carolineingraham.com/what-is-applied-zoopharmacognosy/ for more information.)
There is also evidence-based information and guidance on 120 herbs and remedies in a book called: Veterinary Herbal Medicine by Wynn & Fougere, as well as centuries of knowledge passed down in Folklaw.
Did you know some plants have therapeutic properties for dogs?
For example, Chamomile is great for an upset stomach and can help reduce anxiety, Marigolds can help dogs experiencing grief or distress, Violets can support a dog who has recently changed home, Meadowsweet is excellent to soothe inflammation like arthritis and can also help with digestive problems. Other plants can help with urinary issues, wounds and infections, nervous conditions, help reduce stress, hyperactivity, and muscular aches and pains. There are so many natural remedies available to offer dogs who will not only enjoy exploring the new smells but greatly benefit from the therapeutic properties should they need to - even more so when they are rescued.
Offering the dogs at SHAK the opportunity to explore as many different plants and sniff out the ones they need will not only allow them to self-select something to help them heal naturally but also enrich their day-to-day lives at the kennels. As well as sniffing and rubbing against the plants they will also be able to eat them should they wish to as they have all been carefully selected to ensure they are safe to digest.
A couple of weeks ago I teamed up with Catherine from Sanderson’s Herbs & Bach Flower Remedies, a local herbalist, who was keen to offer her expertise and vast knowledge about therapeutic plants and how best to care for them so we can help our dogs the most. Together we came up with a list of plants and herbs to use and we started brainstorming plans for the planters.
Catherine contacted her clients and asked for their help supplying plants and other gardening supplies like labels.
Next on the to-do list was to organize a ‘special’ job for Stephen (Founder and Chairman of SHAK) who took a morning away from working with the dogs and directing the charity to collect a dumpy bag of compost from Greenleaf Recycling in Bedlington then deliver it via his van to the kennel site.
Not wanting to take a ‘foot off the gas' it was full steam ahead this week when Catherine kindly agreed to meet me again yesterday afternoon to start planting. The rain and hailstones didn’t put us off (although we did take a five-minute break under the roof of one of the outside kennels at one point!) and already some of the planters (who were all amazingly handmade and donated) are in place and full of herbs and plants specially selected for our dogs.
Hopefully, within the next couple of weeks, the remaining planters will be on-site and Catherine and I can continue our work. We would also love to include sensory equipment such as mirrors and sand/ball pits to help us take our enrichment plans to the next level. (We already get a paddling pool out in the hot summer months for our dogs to splash about, find toys, and lie in to help them cool down which they really enjoy - especially Holly!)
This is truly an exciting time for our SHAK dogs and everyone involved; it is also an incredible project for an animal sanctuary to be able to offer its residents – our beloved dogs.
I am looking forward to sharing photos and videos of our progress with you over the coming months which you will find on Facebook and Instagram: @lifeholistictherapies
P.S I will leave you with a short video clip of SHAK dogs: Duke, Jeff, Zeus, Lennon, and Farko, already investigating the new garden!