Recently, I was fortunate enough to talk to Valerie Yuill from Therapy Dogs Nationwide about the amazing work the volunteers and their trusted therapy dogs are doing! From helping children with their reading, working with children suffering from cynophobia or bringing happiness to children with varying disabilities, Therapy Dogs Nationwide are making a positive impact and we at Bella and Duke hope to bring further awareness to their mission.
For anyone who might not be familiar with Therapy Dogs Nationwide, would you mind telling us a little about the organisation and how Therapy Dogs Nationwide came to be?
Therapy Dogs Nationwide (TDN) was formed in 2016 when a lot of volunteers were disenchanted with the large charity they were all with. Our Founders were the initial 4 Trustees who, with help from more knowledgeable people, got the charity off the ground. We are now recognised by the Kennel Club and have a presence at Crufts each year.
What kind of traits would you say make a dog an ideal candidate to be a therapy dog, if there is a standard and what type of training do the dogs go through to get ready?
Our dogs have to be calm, sociable and above all friendly to people, love being stroked and behave impeccably. We have a Temperament Assessment that all dogs have to pass to become Therapy Dogs. This assesses how they react and how they recover in several different situations. All training is done by the owner prior to this assessment and if the dog fails the owner is told why and to work on the area needed and apply again in the future. So realistically we never turn a dog down!.
With the fantastic Paws and Read programme, in which the therapy dogs help children with their reading, is it just a case of the dog being there, helping to calm the children’s nerves when reading out loud, or is there more science behind it? Either way, it is amazing work that you are doing!
Our Paws and Read programme is part of the Kennel Club Bark and Read scheme. Reading to one of our dogs can boost a child’s self-confidence immensely and thus all their skills benefit, including their behaviour. A child’s reading can advance up to 60% over a school year and is normally the highlight of the children’s week when the Therapy dog arrives in school. Our dogs are used in pre-school, primary, junior and high schools (including special needs) all having a different effect on the children. Pre-school where they can’t read but will tell a story through pictures but also it helps the transition from home to school. Junior and Primary it boosts their reading capabilities and in high school, it is used more as a reward scheme and also teaching older pupils how to behave around dogs and hopefully, we will have more responsible dog ownership in the future.
You have a wonderful online photo album, packed full of great pictures of children with the dogs and the volunteers. I can imagine but how excited do the children get when they see a dog has come in for the day and what is your most memorable reaction?
Every volunteer will have their own special story some of which are are heartrending! Please read some of them on our Facebook page.
A few examples are a little girl in Early Years who was an elective mute and the volunteer did some tricks with each week the dog to get the little girl’s attention and one day forgot to do a particular trick. The little girl got quite cross with the volunteer and spoke for the first time in school (to tell the volunteer off for forgetting) From that day on she blossomed into a talkative member of her class well ahead of her years in reading.
Our volunteers often work with dog phobic children. One volunteer was asked to work with a little boy new to the school who was really scared of dogs. The dog “wrote” him a letter explaining how she would respect his space and he could lead the sessions and he could leave any time he felt uncomfortable. After two sessions the teacher asked him how he was feeling about the sessions and was he still feeling scared of dogs. “Well” he said “I’m not scared of THAT one”
A volunteer was asked to work with a little boy who could read but didn’t find it enjoyable. After a term of reading with the therapy dog, he told the volunteer that he really enjoyed reading now, it was so much fun learning things. It’s lovely to hear such feedback from a child
Working in a special school can be challenging but our dogs rise to the occasion, knowing instinctively when to lie quietly next to a child with cerebral palsy, blind and with limited movement and allow that child to stroke their soft ears. When that child smiles, you know what you do is worthwhile. When autistic children can sit quietly and listen to stories about the therapy dog and take turns throwing a ball or can have a walk around the playground with the dog (with the volunteer holding the lead) and the teacher is amazed at how the children can concentrate and be still for a moment then again.
Having seen many articles and news reports about charities banning dogs that are raw fed from working as therapy dogs, what was it that allowed you to keep an open mind?
We as a charity don’t believe we have the right to stipulate how each volunteer feeds their dog. We have done quite a lot of research on the effect raw feeding has especially in the transmission of disease, but we couldn’t find any hard evidence showing that a raw fed dog is any more a danger to the public than a kibble fed dog.
Do you think there is a misconception surrounding raw fed therapy dogs?
Definitely. I think the misconceptions lie with every raw fed dog, not just a therapy dog. The RCN has recently put out a report recommending banning raw fed dogs from hospitals as they will spread diseases like e-Coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. What they seem not to have grasped is that these are passed on through faeces, urine and saliva. These 3 methods are nonexistent in a therapy dog as volunteers make sure before they visit their dog relieves itself and also licking is not encouraged. Most humans visiting hospitals are far more unhygienic than one of our raw fed dogs are!!!!
Lastly, do you have any more exciting programmes in the works that you might care to let us in on and what’s next for Therapy Dogs Nationwide?
We are in the process of introducing more dogs into Prisons throughout the country. This is a programme piloted by one of our Trustees Ruth Boyes BEM. We are also trying to introduce Court Dogs where the dogs can help witnesses whilst they are waiting to give evidence. We already have them in Colleges to calm pre-exam nerves, high-stress business situations to help workers, and we have also taken out dogs into the disaster area of Grenfell Towers to help the survivors. We are always looking for places our dogs can help and will consider any request for our dogs that doesn’t put them or their owners at risk.
Thank you to Valerie for taking the time to answer our questions.
By Oliver Meades
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