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Pop-up cafe offers animal therapy for lonely people

Sharon Hall and Moose, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, one of the dogs used in sessions at a cafe to help people with mental health issues. Photo: PA

Dog-lovers are being encouraged to help the lonely and depressed in their community by sharing some “animal magic” at a cafe in Manchester.

Animal-assisted therapy, which began as a treatment for schizophrenics and patients with bipolar disorder at a local hospital, is now being offered at the pop-up cafe, where dog owners can take their pets to help people struggling with mental health issues.

Paints And Paws Pop Inn is the brainchild of Sharon Hall, 54, who found that buying a puppy helped her cope with the loss of her parents.

It uses the “real comfort” and relaxation that holding or cuddling a pet brings to give a “small ray of light” for enjoying other things in life too, Ms Hall said.

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The former psychiatric nurse uses animal-assisted therapy on patients who begin to bond with the animals, reconnect with living things and draw people out of themselves to open up about their problems and worries.

Sessions also include two rescue rabbits, Sid and Nancy, as well as rats, snails and hamsters, and art classes making toys for pets.

The cafe is an extension of successful work Ms Hall already does as part of her pet and art therapy service, Noah’s Art, which has used animal rescue therapy at North Manchester General Hospital.

“That’s the beauty of this work,” she said.

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“The connection you get with an animal depends on you. And then that connection builds a bridge to start interacting with things and people around you.

“It’s a great way for people to do their bit for their community too if they bring their own dogs.

“They get the satisfaction of knowing they have ‘shared’ their pet with someone who appreciates it, and in turn that has benefits for all involved.

“Animals, community, art, all brought together in a safe space, where you can bring your dog and enjoy a brew and a bit of home-made cake. What could be better?”

One of the rabbits at the centre Credit: Mark Waugh

Noah’s Art is one of 35 projects funded by £330,000 in grants from Manchester Health and Care Commissioning (MHCC) to target people who may find it difficult to get help or needed support for mental well-being.

The project is part of the city’s wider plans to focus on more support in the community through its recently launched Local Care Organisation.

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Vicky Lea, who is a reablement team leader at Manchester City Council, visited the Pop Inn session with her own dog, an 11-year-old Shih Tzu called Chunkus.

She said: “Sessions like this really help people with their confidence and making friends again, which has a major impact on self-esteem.

“It just shows you how powerful social care and community support can be – which is a big priority for Manchester.”