‘Amazing’ impact of owls on people living with dementia

PUBLISHED: 15:44 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 15:44 17 July 2018

Sandra Dalzell and owl with Heron Lodge resident Ruby Cragg. Picture: supplied by Stephen Pullinger

Sandra Dalzell and owl with Heron Lodge resident Ruby Cragg. Picture: supplied by Stephen Pullinger


Solitary and nocturnal by nature, owls would not usually be regarded as sociable animals.

Resident Eva Houchin with owl. Pictures: supplied by Stephen PullingerResident Eva Houchin with owl. Pictures: supplied by Stephen Pullinger

However, lifelong owl lover Sandra Dalzell discovered almost by accident the remarkable power of the mysterious birds to connect with people who find communication a challenge.

She said: “I used to work with people with learning disabilities and I discovered the magical ability of my birds to lift their mood and make them happy.”

And it was that discovery that prompted Ms Dalzell to turn her passion into a thriving business, Happisburgh Owls.

Seventeen years after taking in her first rescue barn owl, she now cares for 17 birds at her home in Lighthouse Lane, Happisburgh and provides ‘Owl Experiences’ for people all over the region.

Among her most regular customers are care homes where she has discovered the “amazing impact” on people living with dementia.

She said: “Visiting these homes is the high point of what I do. When I hand someone a bird the effect can be amazing. Even if they don’t look interested to begin with, their expression rapidly changes.

“It reminds them of years ago when owls were plentiful. Residents have talked to me about encounters with barn owls when they were cycling down country lanes as children.”

After a recent trip to Heron Lodge care home in Norwich Road, Wroxham, deputy manager Maebh McCormack said: “The owls are regular visitors here and they have a huge and positive impact on our residents, many of whom are living with dementia.

“Even people who are non-verbal in their communication show they are clearly enjoying the experience through their facial expressions.”

Pet therapy is regarded as important at the Kingsley Healthcare home and there are regular visits by a PAT (Pets as Therapy) dog; residents even enjoyed a recent visit by donkeys to the home.

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