A Northumberland based charity which combats loneliness with dogs is celebrating its 5th birthday.

Wag and Company North East Friendship Dogs Limited (better known as Wag and Company) matches professionally assessed volunteers and their dogs to safely befriend elderly dog lovers across the North East.

Diane Morton, founder and director of Wag and Company, said: “We started with nothing and have grown to an organisation with more than 400 volunteers. We’ve made over 75,000 visits to more than 3,000 elderly North East dog lovers both at home and at care and medical organisations.”

“I realised there was a huge need for charity like this. We wanted to find a way of sharing a dog with someone who is isolated and alone in their own home.

Despite having to suspend all of its operations during lockdown, Wag and Company still had a busy 2020. It donated nearly 7,000 calendars and sent gifts to its members such as cards and chocolates at Easter, as well as mugs with members’ favourite dogs on them.

The charity’s work has meant that in 2020 it was awarded both the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and the Points of Light Award from the Prime Minister. Due to Covid, they’re yet to be presented with the awards but hopefully that will happen at some point later in 2021.

Diane said: “The worst of times has brought out the best in people. Our volunteers have been virtually supporting their friends through window visits, face timing, and dropping shopping off.

“Volunteers had keeping in touch plans and it was quite amazing to see.”

Keeping in touch virtually is nothing like the real thing for Wag and Company’s many friends though, who are delighted to be receiving visits again.

Diane said: “We’ve just started our visits again. We’re calling it ‘emerging from lockdown one paw at a time’.

“Everybody loves their visits and many of our Wag teams and their dogs become really great friends with the people they visit – almost becoming part of the family. We’re delighted to see these lovely relationships take shape.”

“It is absolutely fantastic to see a lot of our friends reunited with their friendship dogs after such a long time of being isolated. Having their friend back to cuddle or pet, even socially distanced, is such a lovely thing. Life is starting to return to normal and that’s the best present we could ask for.”

Wag and Company is currently the only visiting dog charity that aims to befriend older people in their own homes and/or care and medical establishments.