I went to a Christmas dinner for dogs, and it made me realise therapy pets aren't just for nervous fliers
- I went to a "Santa Paws" Christmas dinner for dogs, dog owners, and people who just really like being around them.
- Hosted by UK supermarket Sainsbury's, the dinner I went to was specifically for non-dog owners and included therapy dogs from Pet London.
- Having only owned cats my whole life, I had no idea about the sheer number of products and types of food that are available for dogs, like Christmas cookies and mince pies.
- Being around the therapy dogs at the dinner and getting in a lot of cuddle time dramatically improved my mood by the end of the evening, and definitely got me into the festive spirit.
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Nothing says Christmas like a party - especially one designed for dogs.
UK supermarket chain Sainsbury's recently hosted a series of "Santa Paws" Christmas dinners at a gallery in London where dog owners could buy a ticket to the event and bring their pooches along to mingle. However, for non-dog owners like myself, the Santa Paws Dinner also ran slots with therapy dogs from Pet London.
Things have been lacking on the Christmas spirit front for me recently, so spending an evening with canine companions and celebrating the festive season felt like a good opportunity to get into the holiday frame of mind.
I took my mum with me, who lost her dad (my granddad) very suddenly a couple of months ago. Understandably, since then she's been wrestling with a lot of private grief and logistical stress from now taking on a shared caring role of her own mother.
This was also the first time I had ever been around trained therapy animals. Aside from being a great comfort during bereavement, studies have proven petting an animal increases the brain's serotonin and dopamine levels, which in turn boosts our mood by lowering stress, anxiety, and depression.
Here's what the dinner was like.
I don't know if it was the excitement of spotting six wagging tails dashing around the room, but I practically squealed at this entrance doormat.
The Santa Paws dinner table was set for the dogs to enjoy later in the evening. There was a lot of ooh-ing and ahh-ing coming from me even though we all knew the placemats, table decorations, and cutlery are redundant props when it comes to dogs eating food.
My first cuddle was with Lulu, a Tibetan terrier, who bounded up to me upon arrival. Lulu's handler gave me a treat to give to her and I had a little blonde shadow for the rest of the event.
Just glancing at the shelves, I assumed the products were for people. Always curious to see what's new in stores, I sidled up to have a browse at the packages.
I was a bit shocked to see the slim font spelling out "for dogs" on a mince pie packet that wouldn't look out of place in the hand of a human.
Again, just going on looks, I would have thought these Christmas pudding cookies were treats for people.
There was no shortage of Christmas paraphernalia exclusively for dogs, like these toys with smiley faces.
A "Festive Dinner for Dogs" is actually a sweet thing to buy if you're not planning to carve up a portion of turkey for your pet.
Just like kids, you can spoil the fur babies in your life with an abundance of toys at Christmas (but you know they will only want to play with the box, right?)
Tess, an English cocker spaniel, was very keen on getting a closer look at the dog-friendly treats out on display. It appeared she had her eye on harder stuff than the water which was laid out for her, though.
Dinner time was fast approaching and Mr Bojangles, a bouncy Jack Russell, was anticipating his meal.
Eric, the border collie, donned a tinsel collar in honor of the occasion and patiently sat in his place.
Chaotic excitement and joy was unleashed from the pups as dinner bowls were brought forward and placed in front of them on table mats. Obviously no one used their cutlery.
Everyone got fed, and even managed to have seconds — looking at you Tessa, who dived into Milo's (the Havanese at the back) unfinished bowl when he walked away for a break.
With dinner digesting, the dogs did the rounds again for more photos and petting.
Some furry party-goers found a quiet corner to munch through their final course in peace.
Lulu was clearly very pleased with herself.
In another room, towards the back of the space, there was opportunity to have a professional picture with one of the dogs.
The scene was staged like a holiday-card photo, complete with Christmas trees, fake presents, and fluffy rugs. There was even a box of props off-camera to incorporate into your shot if you wanted. Here's Milo again getting ready for his close-up.
Then there was more time for attention and cuddles for the dogs.
My mom is a dog person and used to have a cocker-spaniel the same coloring as Tess before I came along. She was in her element cooing over the dogs and chatting to their owners about what's involved in becoming a certified therapy pet.
Therapy dogs aren't just pets for people who are anxious flyers — they visit hospices, hospital wards, schools, universities, and offices. The criteria for becoming a therapy dog is quite tough, too. Milo's owner said dogs have to go through an exam, can't be too excitable, and must be able to immediately obey to commands.
Milly, a cavapoo cross, just came along for the snacks and scratches.
The whole evening was a delight, and being around the dogs most certainly caused a spike in my happiness levels as the event drew to a close.
Even something as simple as watching them eat or play with their owners put a smile on every face there. My mom said: "Having recently experienced the passing of my father, my emotions are often extremely low. Seeing the therapy dogs was an instant uplift and wished I could have seen them for a lot longer."
So it looks like Milo and friends certainly fulfilled their brief for the night.
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