A GENTLE giant is proving that dogs really are man's best friend during his weekly visits to see residents at a care home.

Every Tuesday morning residents at Cranham Residential Car Home eagerly await the arrival of Bentley - a Bernese mountain dog who tips the scales at eight and a half stone.

Bentley first visited the home on Cranham Drive after manager Cindy Hawkins contacted Pets As Therapy (PAT) because she thought one particularly shy man would benefit from visits by a PAT dog.

He proved so popular that a year later he still visits residents every week.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place this week, the team at the home and Pets As Therapy charity are keen to highlight the therapeutic value of animals for people of all ages.

She said: “The residents absolutely love him and it is amazing to see him with them.

"Every Tuesday morning they ask if he is coming in and really look forward to his visits – of all the activities they enjoy here, seeing Bentley is a real highlight for them.

“The therapeutic value of animals is undeniable – stroking him is so relaxing. Some of our residents owned dogs before they decided to move here so Bentley gives them a wonderful sense of continuity and comfort.”

Resident Irene McCartney, who has lived at Cranham for over two years, said Bentley could brighten up anyone's day.

"He is so handsome and is absolutely beautiful. Everything lovely you could say about an animal – that’s Bentley.

"He is a lovely dog, a real beauty and very good therapy.”

Interacting with companion animals is becoming increasingly recognised as a therapeutic intervention and is supported by the World Health Organisation. Animals are considered to be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation.

Among other benefits, stroking them can reduce blood pressure, have a calming effect on the mind, promote relaxation and ease stress and anxiety.

Bentley is five and a half years old and his owner, PAT volunteer Judith Robson said she knew he would make the perfect PAT dog.

“He is so loving. From the first day we got him people stopped us in the street to stroke him. He will be walking past and people just smile, so we thought we’ve got to share him.”