A DOG trainer from Horsell has been named a finalist in the national annual Animal Hero Awards for a scheme that helps dogs and young people with behavioural difficulties.
Dr June Williams, who runs Paws4Change at the RSPCA Millbrook Centre in Chobham where she is a volunteer, has been nominated for Special Recognition in the awards run by the RSPCA and the Daily Mirror.
Dr Williams, a former teacher at Horsell CofE Junior School, started the programme in 2009 as a way of helping young offenders on the back of the success of a similar scheme in the United States.
Paws4Change has now developed to include young people from a variety of backgrounds, including those not in mainstream education and some with learning difficulties.
The youngsters help to train the dogs, under the supervision of experienced dog trainers, and more than 60 have taken part in the scheme that runs two to three times a year.
June told the News & Mail: “At the end of the five days, we have dogs that can now eminently be rehomed, and it benefits the young people for whom it is often the first time in their lives that they have achieved anything.
“They are assessed to see if they have passed all the exercises they are given. If they pass, they are given a rosette and a certificate in a ceremony to which they can ask their support workers and friends and family.
“They learn about anger management and they bring out the best in the dogs that come from seriously deprived backgrounds.
“Some of the four-legged friends we help can be totally shut down but are given an opportunity to bond with humans and are transformed – as are the youngsters. It is a win-win situation.”
“The young people who take part are absolutely committed – we have total attendance and now have waiting lists. They stay in touch with us after the programme and come to see the dogs.
“A number of the youngsters go on to find employment and others are inspired to study at agricultural college.”
June said the scheme, which is run in conjunction with Surrey Youth Support Services, had come under pressure from Government spending cuts, but it has now been saved by two very generous donors.
She said she was absolutely thrilled to have been nominated in the awards, which were due to be handed out in a ceremony in London hosted by actress and Britain’s Got Talent presenter Amanda Holden this week.
“It’s very good to have the scheme recognised and my part in it,” June said.
Amanda said: “I’m delighted to be working with the Animal Hero Awards again this year. It’s so important to recognise those who selflessly dedicate themselves to animal welfare – as well as the outstanding animals themselves, of course!”
Jeremy Cooper, the RSPCA chief executive said: “We are proud to support the Animal Hero Awards as this is a wonderful event celebrating the special bond between people and animals.”