Therapy dogs a massive success with local schools

TWO local schools are having regular visits from dogs thanks to the Pets as Therapy charity, with one helping shy children to read out loud.

Badger, a nine-year-old crossbreed rescue dog, visits the recently refurbished library at Horsell C of E Junior School once a week.

GOOD LISTENER – Ellie and Keeley with Badger at Horsell C of E Junior School

Children are able to read aloud to Badger, which helps their literacy and improves their emotional wellbeing.

The benefits of school dogs are well documented, with research showing that they can teach pupils responsibility, boost self-esteem, lower anxiety levels and improve school relationships.

Sir Anthony Seldon, the vice-chancellor at the University of Buckingham, described school dogs this year as “the quickest and biggest hit that we can make to improve mental health in our schools and to make them feel safe for children … it’s very easy to do, it’s very cost-effective, the evidence is very clear that it works.”

Badger was found abandoned in a skip at two days old with his brothers and sisters, who were all taken to a rescue home.

When he was eight weeks old, Badger was adopted by Sara Allom, from Pirbright, and her family. “He chose us as much as we chose him,” Sara said. “He came to sit on my son’s lap, who was just six at the time, and it was love at first sight.”

Badger was accepted as a Pets as Therapy (PAT) dog after rigorous testing. The pets not only help children, but also elderly people who need a bit of comfort.

“He obviously needs to be very sensitive, very gentle, very well behaved and extremely calm and relaxed,” Sara said.

Horsell C of E Junior was one of Badger’s first placements.

“He absolutely loves working with PAT,” Sara said.  “He understands that as soon as his special collar and lead come out he is on duty and he literally skips up the path to the school every week. It might have something to do with the fact he gets lots of treats from the children he works with, but he also just loves all the attention.

“At Horsell we work specifically with children who don’t get much of an opportunity to read at home, or who are perhaps less confident readers. The Read 2 Dogs scheme, through Pets as Therapy, has been proven to really help raise children’s confidence with reading aloud. It’s much easier and far more relaxing to read to a loved friendly dog than to a teacher.”

Sara said that the pupils love Badger. “Teachers inform us that those children who read to us grow in confidence in a matter of weeks. It seems everyone looks forward to it and sees it as a chance to have some quiet time with a lovely warm doggie soul.”

Keeley, who reads to Badger regularly, said: “He’s cute and a really good listener.”

Connaught Junior School in Bagshot also has a therapy dog, Toffee, a six-month-old Cavapoo puppy who joined the school at the beginning of the current school year.

Toffee, a poodle, Cavalier King Charles spaniel cross on duty at Connaught Junior School

The cross between a poodle and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is at the school each day after weekly visits from PAT dogs.

Siobhan McGann, the headteacher, said: “Their time with us was limited and only a small number of children were able to interact with them. The positive response to the PAT dogs prompted me to consider permanently introducing a school-based dog to whom all the children could have regular access, in order to ensure that the beneficial effects could be widely felt by everyone.”

Mrs McGann acquired Toffee and took her on to the school grounds in the summer holidays so she could get used to the area and also Bubbles, the therapy rabbit.

She said she knew that the benefits of dogs in schools was well known and added: “I don’t need research to tell me what I can see in the faces of the children and the adults when they see her. It’s wonderful.”

She keeps Toffee at home and pays for most of her upkeep, bringing her to school every morning.

Toffee plays with children at Connaught Junior School

“A typical day will start with an early morning walk with a parent, before Toffee comes back for a rest in my office. Then she sees groups of children as a reward and they often bring their work to show her.

“She’s a fantastic incentive to the children to complete their work to a high standard and try their hardest. As she gets older a game of catch with Toffee will be the ultimate reward here at Connaught.

“I am absolutely delighted by the positive impact Toffee has had on the entire school community this term. She puts a smile on everyone’s face, which is instrumental in creating a happy school environment where children are not only ready to learn but also feel emotionally secure.”

Benji, in Year 4, said: “Toffee is always wanting to play and would definitely cheer me up if I was feeling sad.”

Kaydee, also in Year 4, said: “Toffee is playful, bouncy and adorable! She makes Connaught Junior School the best school in the universe. She is the best.”

For more information, visit www.petsastherapy.org.

For the full story get the 19 December edition of the News & Mail

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