Two therapy dogs are helping to transform the lives of people with mental health problems in Coventry and Warwickshire.

Seven-year-old Alaskan Malamutes Mishka and Koda are volunteers with a difference at Coventry and Warwickshire Mind where they provide a special form of therapy for the area’s leading mental health charity alongside its staff and volunteers.

Mishka and Koda are among a dedicated army of close to 200 volunteers at Coventry and Warwickshire Mind whose valuable contributions are being highlighted by the charity as part of national Volunteers’ Week, which runs from June 1 – 7.

Specially trained by their owner Shane Kennedy, who works as a community support worker at the Coventry-based charity, the canines are star attractions at Cooper’s Lodge in Radford where the charity runs therapeutic one-to-one and group sessions in relaxation and anxiety management.

The four-legged friends offer a furry back to stroke and a listening ear to anyone who needs it as evidence suggests they can reduce anxiety and symptoms of depression while increasing self-esteem and confidence. Such is their popularity, meet and greet events are also organised to give those not attending the courses a chance to give the dogs a well-deserved pat on the back.

Shane, who trains the therapy dogs for Sled Dogs As Therapy UK (SDAT UK) which he runs alongside his work for the mental health charity, says the non-judgmental nature of the animals creates a less stressful environment which can help people open up about their feelings.

“Sled Dogs As Therapy UK is proud to be able to volunteer its services within Coventry and Warwickshire Mind,” said Shane. “SDAT UK is a non-profit organisation that works nationally with recovering service personnel and in education.

“The benefits of using the dogs really comes down to connection; whether you are stroking a dog or walking it up a mountain, the dogs can help not just to relieve stress but also to reconnect with something outside of yourself.

“They can be a great tool to help people express themselves. I have had individuals tell me some really deep stuff because they were looking at and stroking the dog whilst they were talking. I cannot take them by the hand and I cannot hug them as that’s breaking boundaries, but the dogs can. They can add that reassuring touch for people when needed.”

Kay St Clair, Coventry and Warwickshire Mind chief executive, said: “Coventry and Warwickshire Mind offers a diverse range of free support services for those with mental health problems, including Dogs as Therapy, and much of what we do would not be possible without volunteers. Each is valued for the time they give helping us to provide quality support and raise awareness of mental health and Volunteers’ Week is a chance for us to say thank you and highlight the difference they make to people’s lives.”

For more information about volunteering for Coventry and Warwickshire Mind, phone 024 7655 2847 or visit the website www.cwmind.org.uk