Spike of the Manor

Spike with owner Kate

"He looked up at me, the two of us locked eyes and that was it,” says Kate McGonnell-O’Neill.

“It’s been a love story ever since.”

Spike arrived in the McGonnell-O’Neill family’s lives shortly after the sad loss of miniature schnauzer Fritz at the ripe old age of 17. Kate’s husband, Mike, had worried initially about a repeat of the heartache caused by Fritz’s death, but for Kate, who has been surrounded by dogs her whole life, the house felt empty without a canine presence.

Spike, who is now 14, needed help to find a new home from our Thirsk rehoming centre in North Yorkshire 10 years ago, when his owners could no longer care for him or his brother.

Despite the passage of time, Jenny Day, who has worked at Thirsk for many years, remembers the sweet lurcher well. 

She says: “Spike was a quiet little soul who was struggling with being in the kennel environment. This meant he was shy and nervous, which might have been why people were put off offering him a home. He was with us for around three to four months before Kate gave him a home. I’m delighted that he’s doing so well.”

Working magic

Spike had always been a gentle and placid lad, who loved being around people, so when Kate spotted an ad asking for volunteers on the vet’s notice board, she knew Spike would fit the bill.

Dog Spike chills out in the garden

“At the time I was missing nursing, but the kids were so young that I couldn’t go back to it unfortunately,” Kate explains. “I thought, what a great way to help. If the vet thinks he’s good, and I’m a nurse, that’ll let me keep my hand in, go and see the residents, and we’ll come as a double act. He absolutely loved it, and they loved him, and that’s been us ever since.”

Some residents don’t have family who live near, so they’ll look out for Spike. You don’t think that just five or 10 minutes with a dog would make a difference, but to see their faces light up shows it really can. Kate, Spike's owner

Spike has been volunteering at Mount Vale Care Home in Northallerton for eight years now. Once a fortnight he pops in to visit the residents for a chat, and carefully makes his way around each room; making sure no one is left out. We joined Spike on one of his regular visits to find out what the residents and their families enjoy so much about his company.

“I look after him when he comes in,” says Joan Bailey, wife of Bill, a resident of Mount Vale. “I always give him a biscuit. I absolutely love him. He’s so good natured.”

Spike has the exact location of the cupboards in which residents keep the dog treats well and truly sussed! 

“He’s so well behaved, ” says resident Frank Grant, before leaning down to whisper to Spike: “You’re a cracker; you really are.”

A painting of Spike hangs on the wall above Spike's bed, which he sits in
Spike brings so much joy to the residents of the care home he visits
Spike brings so much joy to the residents of the care home he visits

Health benefits

The smiles that spread across the faces of the residents, their families and the staff when Spike enters the care home are a sure sign that his visit is welcome, but it’s not just anecdotal evidence that suggests canine therapy is beneficial to human health.

Scientific studies have found significant decreases in agitated behaviour in dementia patients following regular contact with animals for just three weeks, and research has shown simply stroking a dog will lower the petter’s heart rate.

Dr David Hughes, a resident and former anaesthetist, says Spike’s presence is simply wonderful and he looks forward to each visit, especially now that he can no longer keep his own pets.

“We’ve always had dogs at home, and I used to do a lot of riding too. I enjoy just seeing an animal. It’s just lovely seeing Spike. Just him being present is relaxing. We all love seeing him. Believe you me, things are very similar day by day and to have a little change like that makes all the difference in the world.”

Some of the elderly residents at Mount Vale suffer from dementia and can often become upset and confused, but a visit from Spike can calm the most distressed patient and bring a smile to their face. “Even if he’s just seen two people, other residents pick up on the fact that they have calmed down, and then they calm down. It’s like a domino effect,” says Rebecca Clark, Activities Co-ordinator at the home. 


Dizzee is now a police dog

WORKING DOGS

Labrador Riley was given up at nine months old for being too bouncy. He’s channelled all that energy into helping new owner, Ella Watson, who suffers from osteoarthritis, which makes everyday tasks impossible.

After being put through his paces by charity Dogs for Good, he was matched with Ella. He helps her with physical tasks and has freed her from social isolation.

Dog Dizzee is now fighting crime on the streets of London. Ryan Neile, Blue Cross Animal Behaviourist, said: “It’s unusual for the Metropolitan Police to take rescue dogs and it’s even rarer for one to make it through the challenging training and assessment.”

In less than eight months, Dizzy had qualified and one of his first jobs was stopping a robber in their tracks.

Spike gives owner Kate his paw

“Some of our residents can’t speak and dementia means that some don’t respond to much at all, including people, but we do have residents who will almost wake up and become much more alert when Spike enters the room. It’s amazing to see.”

I enjoy just seeing an animal. It’s just lovely seeing Spike. Just him being present is relaxing. We all love seeing him. Dr David Hughes, a resident of Mount Vale

“Some residents don’t have family who live near, so they’ll look out for Spike,” Kate adds. “You don’t think that just five or 10 minutes with a dog would make a difference, but to see their faces light up shows it really can.”

Spike smiles at the camera
Spike is such a happy boy

Local celebrity

Mount Vale hosts residents who need supported care, and has a dedicated wing called ‘memory lane’ for those with dementia needing specialist care. Last year, after more than two years of fundraising, the staff opened a new sensory room, designed especially to help residents who are unable to speak or communicate very well.

The residents were asked who they would like to officially open the new room – perhaps a local politician, celebrity or footballer. But it was Spike who was unanimously chosen.

Kate was flattered that Spike was asked, and she is delighted with the warm welcome he receives on each visit and by how he is remembered by families.

“I have received several letters from families of residents who have sadly passed on, and they’re always addressed to Kate and Spike. I have kept them all,” she explains. “One daughter wrote to tell me what a difference Spike made to her mother’s life and she sent a pack of Smackos. It makes me very emotional, but I am so proud of Spike.”

Spike stretches out in the garden

— Page last updated 10/11/2016