A Very *Murray* Christmas!

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We are continuing to open windows on our Caring Christmas Advent Calendar. Each day our gift to our readers is a little story of wonder, celebrating how we care for our world and each other. Today Jennie introduces us to Murray, Manchester Museum’s therapy dog, and reminds us that both dogs and museums are for life, not just for Christmas…

A Very *Murray* Christmas

We are all familiar with ‘a dog is for life not just for Christmas‘ and maybe also with the idea of ‘museums for life’. And interestingly, it can be seen that both museums and dogs offer a plethora of similarly profound psychological benefits.

The concept of ‘museums for life’ uses the idea positive associations made in childhood, such as curiosity, learning, engaging with nature, discovery, playfulness and other techniques that keep us mentally aware and stay with us into adulthood. Dogs teach us mindfulness and motivate us to get out into nature. Just walking, running or playing together (cue schmaltzy montage…) forces us to be focused in the moment and experience the simple joy of existing that permeated our childhood. And this joy has been in abundance since a certain hound recently turned up at our museum.

The canny canine combo has brought a wealth of wellbeing boosts… It arrived in the form of Murray, not Bill, but a young border collie – a unique doggy dose of joy, care and peace. I immediately pounced when his owner, Wendy Gallagher, Head of Learning and Engagement at Manchester Museum, made the offer to share him with museum staff. And once he settles into adulthood, this furry fun factory will be our first museum therapy dog!

Murray, being a good boy.

For me, he is a welcome bundle of energy breaking the monotony of working from home by injecting some emotionally-charged pleasure and exercise into the bleakness of these socially restrictive times. But there is much more to these loyal and trusting buddies, and they certainly earn their status as (wo)man’s best friend. Across the globe, scientists and organisations are sitting up and paying close attention to the positive effects that can be gained from staff spending time with well-trained and amicable dogs in the workplace.

Immediate benefits like unconditional companionship and affection, are quick wins, bringing an instantaneous increase in happiness, reduction in stress and lowering of blood pressure. Therapy dogs are also adept at breaking down social barriers and can enable people with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues to develop social confidence and gain a sense of autonomy.

Dogs offer empathy by sensing and even differentiating between good and bad emotions. Allowing pause – and paws – for thought through emotional contagion, the idea of feelings spreading between animals and people, has gained scientific traction. For example, therapy dogs can be trained for an individual’s needs and therefore can help trauma victims to process and manage emotional pain.

So, even the smallest interactions can reap the greatest of benefits and this can work for everyone, from the highest echelons to an array of underdogs and all in between. Murray as a mascot will exemplify how we continually strive to involve the public in our collection, the historic building, its spaces and its people. Through its representatives, associated communities and organisations, our social dispensation provides a sense of involvement, belonging and ownership. It’s in our nature, and intrinsic to the museum’s ethos and evolution, from our first day of opening given as a gift presented to the people of Manchester in 1890 to the present day.

In the spirit of giving and receiving that transcend the season, have a very *Murray* Christmas!

Jennie Trueman

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