She can be spotted in Braintree twice a week, furry friend in tow, bringing smiles to all she sees.

Joan Perry is an 87-year-old volunteer dog walker for RSPCA Danaher Animal Home in Wethersfield.

Almost every Wednesday and Saturday for seven years she has been walking appreciative mutts through the streets of Braintree, meeting traders, chatting with residents and trying to find the animals forever homes.

Joan, who has lived in Bradwell for 65 years, said: “I started as a volunteer at Danaher in 2003 but at that time I looked after, fed and watered the animals at the centre.

“Then I started walking the dogs in 2010 and since then I have walked 202 different dogs.”

The great-grandmother of four has always been surrounded by dogs. In her youth she shared her Braintree home with several German Shepherds.

Her mum used to breed and show dogs at Crufts, and her father used to race greyhounds at Braintree’s old track.

“Dogs are probably my biggest passion - saying that I have a cat at home called Merlin.

“I always thought I would end up with a dog when I started volunteering at Danaher but I have ended up rescuing five cats over the years.”

Though she loves her work as a volunteer, it isn't all cute puppies and heart-warming tales with happy endings.

“We have had some real horror stories over the years. We have had staffies which have been used as bait dogs that have come in with serious injuries.

“We had an American Bulldog come to us once that has been kept by its owner in a fifth floor flat all day and it had fallen out of the window.

“A lot of the dogs have just been abandoned by their owners."

She says she doesn’t have favourites and has loved all 202 of the pooches under her care.

But she certainly developed a soft spot for Syd, a terrier cross who she walked dozens of times and spent many many hours with.

“He was 12-years-old and his elderly owners had to go into a care home so the centre had to take him.

“I took him out 30 times before we managed to find him a home.

“It must have been awful for him to have a loving home like that then lose it, and he didn’t like the kennels.

“You do get attached to the dogs but everyone from Danaher has to keep their feelings in check and do their best for the animals.”

Life as a volunteer isn’t a walk in the park and sometimes Joan is run across town by an unruly animal who wants to explore everything Braintree has to offer. However the rewards are well worth the hard work.

“Once one of the dogs ran off down Coggeshall Road and some of the market traders had to chase her down the road for me, but we couldn’t catch her. In the end we found her in someone’s back garden.

"Another time I took a chihuahua into one of the RSPCA shops in Braintree and a woman said it was their family pet which had been stolen.

"That was a minor miracle, the chances of that happening are so small."

After a fall Joan was forced to take a few weeks break whilst she recovered, but she is now back doing what she loves most.

"I am sure I get as much from it as the dogs do.

“I would like to keep doing it as long as I can. There may come a time when in the future when I have to give it up.

"I only plan to give it up when I cannot walk anymore.

"It would be amazing if more people could take up the volunteering."

Karen Joyner, deputy manager of Danaher, said the home was very lucky to have her as part of the team.

She said: "It helps promote both the dog and the home, and on many occasions people come to Danaher after speaking with her on her ambles around Braintree, resulting in animal adoptions.

"The trips out, meeting with people, walking past traffic etc. helps socialise our dogs and gives us an idea as to how they react to certain situations.

"Joan is without doubt a very dedicated lady, with an enormous heart and a real love for animals."

Next time you see Joan in the town centre, stop and say hello to her and her furry companion - stroking dogs is now scientifically proven to improve happiness.

But also maybe think about donating to Danaher or volunteering to take out your own four-legged friend. As Joan says, it will make your life just a little bit better.