Most Fridays you'll see Winston at Virginia Lodge Rest Home.
Winston is a golden retriever and his owner, Sharon Mesic, is a diversional therapist.

Winston is renowned for cheering up the miserable, bringing a smile to the grumpy.
"He was three months old when I started taking him out, training him with people with dementia," says Sharon. That was in Australia, when she worked in a large care facility.
Loma Head, resident at Virginia Lodge for nine years, reckons Winston belongs to the home now. "He's ours. We've adopted him."

Sharon says people often grieve for their pets, having to give them up when they go into care, so a visit from Winston works better than any medication.
"He's been taught to not jump up on people and he's not allowed on the furniture unless he has permission." As she speaks, Winston is lying on a chair within easy reach of Loma's hands. Physical access is important, says Sharon, and special care is taken so residents with disabilities or limited movement can still touch him.

Winston's character endears him to most (but not all) of the residents.
"I said to the breeder I want a 'sookie-la-la', but not a shrinking violet, because I want him as a therapy dog, so I don't want him to be too timid.
"I worked in a big dementia unit with 52 people. It was way too big and we had massive behavioural problems, but taking him in just changed the mood, with staff as well as residents. I'd take him in two days a week. Any more than that and he'd get really tired.
"He's really good if someone's upset. If someone new comes in and they're missing their animals, I'll always spend time with them, with Winston. It cheers them up.
"We encourage staff to bring in pets," says Sharon. "One of the RN's had foxie puppies, we've had a piglet called Porkchop ... " A staff member brings in her Shetland ponies occasionally.
"It's good for unconditional love. The animals don't judge." There is also a resident cat.


Winston has been trained to sit still and let people touch him, play with his ears, rummage in his fur, massage under his chin, and generally make a fuss over him.

Sharon started work at Virginia Lodge in July.
"I did my training in Australia. I had 50 volunteers and eight staff. But I love it here. It's like a little family. I love Whanganui. I went to [Wanganui Girls' College] boarding school here and said I'd never come back, but it's changed so much over the years." Sharon's family lived in Taihape.

Winston was not the only golden retriever on the premises that day. Ann Evans from Ohingaiti, a member of Canine Friends, brought Thumper to visit the residents.
"I come to Whanganui once a month," says Ann. "I do other rest homes and I do Feilding and Marton as well. I'll be at Broadview this afternoon.
"Canine Friends is all over New Zealand and we have about 600 members. There are quite a few here in Whanganui."

Many breeds of dog are used by Canine Friends. They are assessed on their behaviour, temperament and how they relate to people.
"Probably the most common are the golden retriever, labrador and greyhound."

Ann has three dogs she uses in rest home visits. Her oldest dog, Sophie, has been doing it for more than 10 years.
"I do assessing and I meet a lot of lovely dogs," says Ann.
Dogs are assigned to particular rest homes so they become part of the "family".