Members of a volunteer group in Rotorua are sharing their best friends with others in the community.
The Canine Friends Group was founded in Wellington in 1990 by Eileen Curry who was moved by the despair of an elderly woman going into care and unabled to take her beloved dog with her. Curry offered to visit her with her own dogs and quickly realised this could be a service that would bring comfort to many people.
The Canine Friends Pet Therapy Group has been in Rotorua since 2008. For the past eight years Mary Barton and her Sydney silky terrier Minnie have been part of the group of volunteers.
"I signed up to Canine Friends believing if we all do something helpful for others, the community is a better place," Barton said.
"Minnie had to be temperament-tested, as are all the dogs before becoming canine members, as some of the people we visit have lost some of their co-ordination and aren't very good at stroking the dogs.
"Often they are poked and prodded and their tails pulled so obviously they need to be non-aggressive."
The17 local dog owners who volunteer with the Canine Friends Group haveanimals in a variety of shapes and sizes.
"I think my dog is the smallest but we have a retired greyhound and a rottweiler among us," Barton said.
The Canine Friends Group visit each of Rotorua's rest homes forabout 90 minutes.
"Perhaps the most valuable skill a group member can have is the ability to show a genuine interest in the person you are talking to. For some, seeing a dog will bring up memories of a dog they once owned. This, in turn, usually leads to a conversation about pets, and then family members and then the photos come out.
"Some of the people we see don't have many, or even any, other visitors."
As well as rest homes, one of the volunteers takes their dog into aschool.
"The children actually read to the dog. They [the pupils] love it as it's not a grown-up listening to them, it's a dog.
"Canine Friends also go to the Tree Trust to meet people in wheelchairs. Balls are thrown and retrieved by the dogs."
Barton said members would love to be able to go into the Rotorua Hospital and Hospice if there were enough volunteers and if the two places would have them.
"We would love to have more volunteers join us, it really is very rewarding work. While the majority of our group are older people, and I think that's simply because older people have more time, we do have younger dog owners as well."
At close to 90, Barton believes she gets back as much as she gives.
"When you're older you often don't feel terribly needed. It's nice to wake up and think today's the day I go and do something for someone else."