Did you know that there are around 54 million pets in the United Kingdom? And 8.5 million of these are dogs! For many people, dogs are members of the family – a source of comfort, companionship and support. Giving them up is a prospect that doesn’t bear thinking about.
But when Karen Tipping was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had to face that possibility. Unable to look after her two dogs, Lily and Maisy, she risked losing “the girls” – until a unique local charity stepped in to help.
Karen, Lily and Maisy are a team – you can’t have one without the others. But through gruelling chemo and radio therapy, Karen just wasn’t able to look after her girls. The thought of losing the lovable Border Collie Cross and her Shitzu sidekick was devastating.
“The fatigue from the chemo was like nothing I’d ever experienced,” says Karen. “There were days I couldn’t get off the sofa but I was very independent and didn’t like asking for help.
“Friends and family were great but the dogs needed regular long walks. Poor Lily was even putting on weight and I felt so guilty, so low.
“At one stage I’d to go into hospital for a week and the dogs had to be separated – one of my brothers took one and a friend the other. I don’t know what I’d have done without them but I knew this situation couldn’t go on.”
But around then a Macmilllan support worker told Karen about Rosie’s Trust, a Northern Ireland charity that matches volunteers with people whose poor health means they can’t look after their pets any more.
Thanks to National Lottery players, the charity received £499,281 of funding to build a network of volunteers across Northern Ireland so that they can help even more people keep their pets through illness or infirmity.
As well as offering support with the day to day tasks of looking after a pet – walks, feeding, visits to the vet – Rosie’s Trust also matches pets with foster families if their owner is taken into hospital. However, it’s not just the pets who benefit from the services.
Ruth Pinkerton was one of three Rosie’s Trust volunteers assigned to Karen.
“I think I got more out of it than Lily and Maisy,” admits Ruth, a life-long dog lover. “I used to wonder what I’d do with my time when I retired but when a former colleague told me about Rosie’s Trust I thought it sounded like a good fit.
“Karen sent me a lovely little card at one stage which moved me to tears. She was thanking me for all the ‘long walks and love’ I’d brought to her girls. That sums up what Rosie’s Trust is all about.”
And Karen agrees: “It was lovely for me too that Ruth and the other friendly volunteers called because I felt so isolated. I looked forward to them calling as much as the dogs.
“The service had such a positive impact on how I coped with cancer. The dogs mean so much to me; I loved seeing them happy again.”
Now phasing her return to work, Karen is slowly resuming her much-missed outings with her beloved pets.
“It’s great to feel some sort of normality returning. When you’re in the middle of cancer you think this is going to be your life for ever,” she admits.
“The last couple of months I’ve started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and much of that is down to the charity – as well, of course, as our wonderful NHS.
“I thought life as I knew it was over when I got that diagnosis. Now, thanks to Rosie’s Trust, the girls and I are looking forward to a future of long walks.”
Rosie’s Trust are able to continue with their work because of money raised by National Lottery players. If you’re interested in getting involved with the charity, check out their details below: