A key part of our wellbeing programme is the school’s Therapy Dog, Mae, who is a six-year-old Golden Labrador owned by our School Nurse, Katie Gilmore. Mae has been coming to the school a couple of times a week since she was three – and more often if a pupil has a particular need for support or, for example, when the exam season comes round. Katie often describes Mae as a ‘prescription dog’, which seems like an appropriate term for the benefits that she brings to our community.
Mae is part of the Pets as Therapy visiting scheme, which is accepted as therapeutic as well as bringing pleasure to people of all ages in establishments across Europe. Pets as Therapy dogs are recognised by the Royal College of Nursing and welcomed by medical authorities in many areas, with the value of pet therapy widely accepted as a powerful aid to stimulation and communication, and with studies showing that the presence of companion animals can improve the wellbeing of children and lower the rate of anxiety simply by making the environment happier, more enjoyable and less forbidding.
The benefits of having therapy dogs in the school include:
· Physical benefits: Interaction with therapy dogs has been shown to reduce blood pressure, provide physical stimulation and assist with pain management.
· Social benefits: A therapy dog promotes greater self-esteem and focused interaction with other pupils and teachers.
· Cognitive benefits: It has been empirically proven that therapy dogs stimulate memory and problem-solving skills.
· Emotional and mental health benefits: A recent national survey of adolescent mental health found that about 8-10% of 13 to 18 year-olds have an anxiety disorder of some sort. A therapy dog like Mae can lift moods, often provoking laughter, and is there to offer friendship and a shoulder to lean on for our pupils.