WE all know pets can be wonderful companions when we're feeling a bit down. For 12-year-old Harvey Melrose, his pet guinea pigs Twinkle and Sparkle are also the perfect stress-busters.

Harvey, who has just started at Applefields school, has autism. But whenever he gets upset or anxious, all he needs is his guinea pigs, says mum Nina. "Having them on his chest or in his arms will help quickly calm him when he is distressed," Nina said. "They will just gently snuggle in and lick his face when he is upset or angry and make him instantly calmer. No one else has that magic touch!"

Harvey, who turned 12 this week, was given his pets on his ninth birthday exactly three years ago. "He knelt down and lifted up the cover and that was it," said Nina. "He put his head in his hands and was overcome with joy." He even chose their names.

So devoted is Harvey to his pets that, when he goes to his weekly overnight respite, he has been known to try to sneak one of his guinea pigs into his suitcase. "I've had to give him a toy guinea pig to take!" said Nina.

The two little guinea pigs have really helped Harvey come out his shell, Nina said. "I have often come across him sweetly talking to his piggies when he hasn’t wanted to talk to anyone else. They are teaching him social and emotional skills in a fun and loving way. He is learning how to look after something. He has such a difficult, anxious life but his piggies have been an absolute blessing. Magic piggies which light up his world."

Wilson the cockapoo is another pet which has brought his family joy. Becky Coupland, from Brayton near Selby, has only had Wilson a week. "But he has brought us so much joy despite such a dreadful year," she said. "He's settled in so well, especially with our rescue cat Misha. It’s been an absolutely awful year but Wilson has made it so special for us and we’re looking forward to having him participate in our wedding next year!"

And then there's Marley. Lisa Atkinson, from New Earswick, has had the Dalmatian for seven years. "Marley rescued us seven years ago after losing our other rescue pup," she said. "He’d had three previous owners, it really is their loss he is the best pup. After a horrible start to life he is the most spoilt and loved pup."

Marley's favourite holiday destination is Filey. "He likes to queue at the ice cream hut and then devour the ice cream in one go," Lisa said.

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