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Branksome Heights residents adore Sammy as new career beckons for Fiona

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Sammy the miniature Shetland pony brought some animal magic to residents at Branksome Heights Care Home, in Bournemouth – and heralded a new career for Fiona Guile.

Following a variety of jobs, from cabin crew and administration to teaching and childcare, the mother of two has finally achieved her lifelong dream of working with animals by launching a pet therapy business, Pony ‘n Paws.

Alongside 17-month-old Sammy, she is joined in her new venture by the family’s five-year-old cockapoo Scamp.

Fiona, who lives in Bournemouth, said: “I got the idea when I was visiting my nanny in a care home two or three years ago and saw a dog there. At the time, I did not even know dogs were allowed in care homes.”

Since then, she has researched the amazing impacts of the special bond between people and animals, discovering that petting animals is shown to improve mood and wellbeing, produce a calming state, reduce boredom and increase social interactions. In care homes, engaging with animals can be a huge tonic for people living with dementia.

Fiona has ridden horses since she was a teenager so choosing a pony to start her business was only natural.

She said: “Training Sammy involved a lot of in hand work, spending time with him on a daily basis. I also had to desensitise him using such exercises as getting him to walk across plastic bags.”

The visit to Branksome Heights, a Kingsley Healthcare home, was only Sammy’s second care home outing and Fiona said she was amazed by the response of residents.

“They were delighted to see him and said, ‘when are we coming back’. Some of the residents used to have their own horses and ride so Sammy brought back many happy memories for them,” she said.

Branksome Heights home manager Rebecca Hebditch said: “The residents and staff very much enjoyed the visit from Sammy when we had a dedicated animal day.

“The day started with a visit from one of the staff member’s dogs in the morning and then Sammy the horse came along in the afternoon. Pet assisted therapy is always a big hit at Branksome Heights and we find the residents benefit greatly from these visits. Animals can trigger the release of endorphins , a feel good neurotransmitter which gives a calming effect and boosts the level of serotonin, a chemical linked with happiness and wellbeing.”

Anyone interested in hiring Pony ‘n Paws can contact Fiona via the email  [email protected]

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