Area: Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.
Dogs: Border Collies, Busy age 6 and Luna age 10.
I started volunteering with Busy in 2014, visiting a care home briefly, then joining my local school, I felt really passionate about supporting children with my dogs, as I have worked in Special Educational Needs for 20 years and been a school governor for 17 years. I transferred to Canine Concern in 2017.
I am currently a volunteer, assessor, and Area Coordinator for Milton Keynes, where we have around 30 active volunteers.
I chose Busy to start volunteering out of the four dogs I had at the time, because she was so calm and gentle, even though she was only 18 months old. She doesn’t jump up, or paw, or snatch treats and I knew she would enjoy the attention. I have since added Luna, Busy’s big sister. She is not quite as well-behaved as Busy, as she will raise a paw, but she is more sociable. I also occasionally take in my other dogs, Sunny (Busy and Luna’s mum). Aura (Luna’s daughter) and Ounce (Busy’s daughter). They are all well-trained and very popular, especially Ounce, who is very chatty and a bit of a show-off! The children love their tricks – Busy can read a few words!
I started off working with children listening to them read, working in small groups, alongside a member of staff. However, we soon realised that having the dog there gave us such a good opportunity to have a chat in a relaxed, unthreatening situation. So we use the sessions to draw out the children and discuss and model behaviour. We work with children with a wide variety of needs, including low self-confidence, difficulties with learning behaviour and emotional difficulties.
I now attend school for four hours a week, across two mornings, with each dog doing an hour at a time, although we occasionally have a Double Dog Day! We have groups of 6-8 children and some individual sessions. We see around 30 children each week, with groups changing every term.
The dogs help the children by building confidence and giving a focus for the session. We chat about the dogs and what they have been up to during the week, which helps the children think about what they have been doing. We ask questions about what has been difficult and because we have created a ‘safe space’, the children are able to talk about issues. It is essential for me to have consistent support from a member of staff who knows the children and the issues they may have, as I am not able to know this information. We often do role play, modelling examples of good and bad behaviour, which the children find hilarious!
The school as a whole benefit from having the dogs visiting and we are considered a valuable asset to the school. The impact we have on the learning skills of the children we see, in turn affects the learning environment of the whole class. The staff also love seeing the dogs and taking some time out of their busy day for a quick stroke. We occasionally attend assemblies and take part in other activities, such as providing ‘de-stress’ sessions post SATs. And if I have a litter of puppies, they obviously have to visit as well!
I find the sessions so rewarding and love engaging with the children. I feel that it is a great opportunity for them to have positive experiences with the dogs, even for those who have dogs at home. I am keen to teach them about positive management of dogs and about dog welfare. I find it invaluable for the dogs as well and see it as part of their training.
My dogs have all been trained to do agility, which is something we all enjoy. We’ve done various other bits of training of the years, but mainly I focus on keeping them engaged when on walks and calm in the house – Border Collies need to be managed! I am more or less retired, having sold a successful business five years ago. I am a passionate and responsible Assured Breeder, having bred all of my girls except Sunny. You can read more about my dogs on my website.
I have been carrying out assessments for new volunteers over the past few years. I love meeting these people and helping them start their volunteering journey. Being an Area Coordinator is an additional challenge, but I really like helping to find new volunteers and matching them to a suitable placement.
Canine Concern Comments
Penny has been a very valuable member with us. Her enthusiasm for the work has rubbed off on the other members in her area she supports. As a charity, we have always encouraged our members to support each other in this work. It can be daunting to go on visits with your dog and not know what to expect, Penny is there to help with any extra support as an assessor and area coordinator.