Our Special Friends (OSF) is a Suffolk-based charity whose mission is to “enhance human well-being through animal companionship”.

our special friends logoThe charity supports people struggling with a range of situations, including bereavement, illness and other crises. Our Special Friends provides support in a variety of ways. This includes practical help with existing pets, pairing people up with new animal companions and brightening their day with a visiting pet.

OSF’s aim is to keep vulnerable people and their pets together for as long as possible. It has dealt with over a thousand cases to date. The charity is reliant on donations and grants to continue its important work, which supports around 150 people at any given time. Petplan Charitable Trust is proud to be among those who’ve supported OSF with grants in the past year.

daphne with two shih tzus our special friends“People say I’ve got my sparkle back. The dogs just make SUCH a difference.”

Part of OSF’s work involves rehoming pets whose owners can no longer care for them. A typical case is that of a lady (right) who’d suffered from depression following the death of her beloved Cocker Spaniel in 2018 and desperately missed the company of a dog. Thanks to OSF, she was matched up with two Shih Tzus whose owner could no longer care for them due to illness.

Another case in the past year saw the charity providing temporary fostering for Jenny, the dog of a bedbound lady with physical and learning disabilities. Initially stepping in to care for Jenny while her owner was in hospital, OSF has continued to provide support. Volunteers walk Jenny so that she receives enough exercise now that her owner is back home. They also noticed that Jenny was overweight, so arranged for a vet to put together a weight loss programme for her. Both Jenny and her owner have benefited hugely from this support, and both enjoy the regular visits from OSF volunteers.

Our Special Friends have been most helpful in finding my little dog and were very careful to ensure he was going to a good home.

He is an absolute treasure and has given me a new lease of life after losing both my husband and only son in the last 6 months. I think this is a splendid charity and are providing an excellent service to elderly and such people with their beautiful petting dogs.

our special friends charity visits carole with pet dog

Supporting vulnerable people

Another important part of OSF’s work is its ability to offer temporary animal companionship.

This is of enormous benefit in providing emotional support, mental stimulation and socialisation to vulnerable people such as dementia patients.

A Neighbourhood Nurse comments:

“Since OSF’s involvement with my patient I have noticed a remarkable difference in the conversations we have; she is much more engaged and interested in different subjects. She has also found new joy in her life and talks about her weekly walks from OSF every day. The value of OSF’s involvement in this lady’s life is multiple: the health benefits in terms of exercise, no cost to attend a group or transport costs, mental stimulation and socialisation in a way that suits her. Most of all, I attribute the twinkle in her eye to OSF’s involvement in this lady’s life. Thank you!”

karen with poodle alfie our special friendsThat experience is echoed by the family of another OSF client, who explains the effect that a visiting dog had on her father: “It was so nice, when I went to see dad, that he had ‘news to tell me’ for a change, his days used to be all the same. He so enjoyed the ‘little dog’ who sat on his lap to be stroked, gave him another face to see and prompted him to reminisce about the dogs he had had in the past.”

“Our Special Friends and its volunteers truly do change lives for the better. The positive impact of its work is incredible.” – Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds

‘This kind of social prescribing can make a real difference’

It’s no wonder that OSF is receiving accolades for its work. In recognition of the charity’s achievements, OSF is proud to have been nominated for an NHS Parliamentary Award by Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. He comments:

“I was thoroughly impressed by OSF and the simple, but hugely effective, way that this kind of social prescribing can make a real difference to a person’s social and emotional life and their health outcomes. I see social prescribing as fundamental to prevention. And I see prevention as fundamental to the future of the NHS.”

With the nation reliant on the NHS like never before, the work of charities like Our Special Friends in supporting the health service takes on new meaning. At the Petplan Charitable Trust, we’re proud to be able to support this vital work.

Read more case studies, here