Rescue Dog Provides Companionship for Woman with Alzheimer’s Disease

International love your pet day falls on the 20th of February and reminds us to pay extra attention to our companions. Pets can be especially important for elderly and vulnerable individuals in an increasingly isolating society. 

Angeline Semple, 1988

Angeline Semple, an 83-year-old retired cafe owner, moved in with her daughter when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year. 

After the sudden loss of her husband, Angeline started displaying symptoms of dementia while struggling with living alone. Some of her family members noticed problems with her memory, confusion, and a sudden low mood. 

“Having a dog was a blessing. She was there when I needed someone when my husband died.”

While travelling to a doctor’s appointment, Angeline spotted a lost-looking dog wandering around on a main road in West Belfast. Frightened that the dog might be struck by a car, Angeline rescued her and brought her to a local shelter in Belfast.

The jack russell mix had no identification and spent seven days in the shelter waiting for her owners. Staff members believed she was abandoned and would need a new forever home. Angeline later adopted her, lovingly giving her the name Mitzi. 

Mitzi has become an invaluable companion to Angeline as she continues to manage her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

“I don’t understand how anyone could abandon a dog, but they did me a favour. I’d be lost without Mitzi.”

“I would recommend everyone to get a dog. They make you feel safe and keep you from feeling lonely.”

Angeline + Mitzi, 2023

According to the Alzheimers Society, “There are some suggestions that animals can communicate better than humans with people with dementia. This is thought to be because animals rely more on body language than verbal communication.” 

“Animal interventions can often improve self-esteem and confidence in people with dementia. It can also promote quality of life and encourage independence.” 

Author profile

A second-year journalism student at Ulster Univeristy.