A 21-year-old from Banbridge is raising awareness of the many health benefits of spending time with a pet, after witnessing the positive impact first-hand.
It was when his family got a bullmastiff dog called Bubba that Cathal Burke saw a marked change in his mum, who has been ill for 15 years.
To get his message across, Cathal and a group of his friends teamed up with Fixers, a charity that gives young people a voice.
Cathal said: “My mum suffers from fibromyalgia, arthritis, chronic back pain and mental issues.
“She gets brain fog and her thoughts become jumbled and quite difficult to comprehend.
“After we got a dog, I noticed that my mum was more at ease especially when she was stroking him. It helps to focus her mind a bit.”
Noreen McComiskey, a learning disability specialist services manager at the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, is supporting Cathal’s campaign.
She said that she has seen the positive effects dogs have on people.
“I definitely believe that animals are a therapy and the people with a learning disability get so much out of it,” said Noreen.
“The animals provide that comfort, they provide that friend who they can talk to who doesn’t talk back, who understands, who shows empathy by licking their hand and allowing them to stroke.
“It’s a very special bond between human and an animal.”
Explaining why this campaign is so important to him, Cathal said:“I’ve seen my dog help my mother who suffers from physical and mental disabilities and it’s spurred me forward to try to promote this story.
“We hope to raise awareness about animals being used in therapy, they can be so much more than a family pet.”
The charity group Fixers who helped Cathal, works with young people aged 16-25 across the UK by providing them with resources to help them campaign on issues they feel strongly about.
The charity has helped more than 19,000 youngsters across the UK to have a voice in their community on issues such as cyber-bullying, self-harm, suicide or transphobia.
“Fixers started in 2008 as just an idea - an idea given a voice by some 19,000 young people over the past 5 years,” says Margo Horsley, Chief Executive of Fixers.
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.fixers.org.uk