Over the past year, two chihuahuas, Alfie and Oakley, and an 11-year-old labrador Mollie, have become an integral part of the family at Oaklands care home in Scole – and their therapeutic benefit to residents has astounded staff.

Krissy Watts, head of care, said: 'Bringing my chihuahuas into the home initially happened by chance.

'The first day I got Oakley I brought him into the home because I needed to take him to the vets at the end of my shift. But the residents just fell in love with him and it became a regular thing. They even decided to name him after the home.'

Then Alfie then came along and the pair have now become regular visitors to Oaklands during Miss Watts' shifts. Many of the residents have dementia and interaction with the dogs has delivered a calming effect.

Miss Watts said: 'We have been able to include pet therapy in the care plans of certain residents.

'If they become agitated or distressed, it has an amazing soothing effect. One lady's mood changes the instant she sees the dogs.'

The home's activities co-ordinator Tania Amies now includes her Labrador Mollie in her programme of events.

Ms Amies said: 'The residents love to cuddle the small dogs but with Mollie they enjoy taking her for a walk in the garden or playing fetch with her. One of our residents used to breed dogs and compete at Crufts. Sometimes she says, 'I have got to go and walk the dogs', and that is the cue for us to go outside with Mollie.'

Stroking Alfie, resident Doreen Webster, said: 'I would rather talk to dogs than people.'

Home manager Helen Gosling said: 'The impact of the dogs in changing people's moods has been amazing. One resident used to prefer to stay in her room a lot of the time. But now when the dogs are here she loves to come down and socialise.'

Are you helping to run alternative events at a care home? Email kate.royall@archant.co.uk