All dog owners will know just how relaxing it can be to give their pooch a hug after a stressful day at work or to spend a few minutes throwing Fido's ball while watching him race around the garden.

In fact, just being around our canine companions can have a therapeutic and calming effect on humans, as numerous studies have shown.

And this is why staff at the Clisham Ward in Western Isles Hospital have welcomed Molly the Labrador to their team, as they seek ways to support dementia patients in their care.

Six-year-old Molly is a pet therapy dog that has been a regular visitor to Alzheimer's Scotland Day Centre in Stronoway for the past few years, where the patients get the chance to play with her and feed her dry dog food treats.

Having proved such a hit with the patients there, Mollie made her first visit to Clisham on December 4th and has already made a number of firm friends on the ward.

"There are a number of benefits to having a therapy dog, not least the pleasure it gives to the patients and the possibility of increased physical activity from even throwing a toy or a ball or getting up to pat Molly," explained Janine Mackenzie, a staff nurse in Clisham.

"The introduction of therapy pets has also demonstrated improved cognitive and daily living skills, as well as social, special and motor skills."

Many people suffering with dementia go through periods of agitation, especially in the evening hours, which can be a stressful experience for the patient and their caregivers.

However, research has shown that regular contact with a friendly canine can help lower anxiety and increase feelings of calm and wellbeing for dementia patients.

"She is a gentle wee soul, friendly and very patient, an ideal doggie visitor," said Molly's owner Valerie Macleod.

"Even if they don't always remember my name, they recognise Molly and love to pet her."

Written by: Hannah