A RECENT Sunday afternoon in Castletownbere, saw cats, dogs and even a golden pheasant, accompanied by their owners, gather for Beara’s first ever Blessing of the Animals. A crowd of one hundred, with their animals and some with photographs of pets who were deemed too timid or boisterous to attend in the flesh, assembled at the fish auction hall on the pier in Castletownbere. Local priests Fr Danny Broderick from Eyeries Parish, and Fr Martin Spillane from Adrigole Parish blessed the animals to mark World Animal Day, which this year fell on the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.
The event was part of a Beara PAWS for Wellbeing project, a joint initiative between the HSE and local community organisations including Family Support and Community Wellbeing Beara West, the Caha Centre and Eyeries Community Care. This innovative project was launched in order to highlight the benefits keeping a pet can have on mental and physical health for all ages.
Brídín Ashe, one of the project’s organisers, and a community worker with the HSE said the PAWS for Wellbeing Project originally came about from a mental health aspect. Numerous research studies have shown that just the presence of a pet can lift spirits and help with relaxation, as well encouraging people to get out more for regular exercise. It can also help to combat stress. Growing up with a pet can help strengthen a child’s immune system and help reduce the risk of allergies. Children who have pets also have shown to have a more positive outlook on life, with less loneliness, restlessness and boredom.
Brídín met with the local community groups, and together they formed a core group to work on the project, and arrange a number of events to promote it, which would also include all age groups.
The project launched on September 19th with an exhibition of work by the Beara Camera Club, on the subject ‘Older People and their Dogs’. Launched by Community Arts Facilitator Seán O Laoghaire at the Castletownbere Library a large number turned out to view a selection of photographs of older people from throughout the Beara Peninsula and their dogs. The launch of the photographic exhibition coincided with Positive Ageing Week, which Brídín said was an ideal way to promote pet ownership to older people, ‘keeping a pet, particularly a dog, keeps people active, walking your dog is a guaranteed way to meet and chat to other dog owners. For people who live on their own in isolated areas it encourages them to get out and meet people, it’s a great social outlet.’
For the second part of the project, national schools throughout Beara were asked to take part in a competition writing a story titled ‘Why I Love My Dog’, in order to highlight the importance of dogs in young people’s lives. The winners of this competition will be announced on November 28th.
The third part of the project, which was open to all age groups, was the blessing of the animals in Castletownbere. As well as allowing owners to have their animals blessed, the event proved to be a great day out for everyone, with a marquee on the pier serving teas and coffees, and representatives from the Dogs Trust, Cork Guide Dogs for the Blind and Grace Carney from local grooming company Hairs & Graces was on hand to give grooming advice and free nail clipping for all the canine visitors.
In setting up the Beara PAWS for Wellbeing, Brídín said she was aiming to highlight how keeping a dog can have a positive impact on both physical and emotional health. As a dog owner herself, Bridin is well aware of these benefits, ‘keeping a dog means you are more likely to get out and for physical exercise, have a routine in your life and have more social interaction. I live in a rural area, and I am aware that the greater the variety of social activities you have the better, owning a dog and taking your dog for a walk is one of the best ways to meet people, it’s a great social outlet, my dog goes everywhere with me.’
Brídín was delighted with the turn out at the Blessing of the Animals and extended thanks to all those who supported the event, Family Support and Community Wellbeing Beara West, the Caha Centre, Eyeries Community Care, Father Broderick and Father Spillane, all those who attended and Fast Fish for the use of the auction hall.
Brídín is hoping that other events can be supported and organised under the Beara PAWS for Wellbeing Project, including weekly walks for owners and their dogs, and asked groups and individuals to contact her at 027 55158 or at [email protected]