Well, the short answer is…no, not many Education Officers do!
As Education and Community Officers, we are divided in to regional teams – within my team, there is: Me (covering Devon and Cornwall), Emily (covering the rest of the South West), Claire (covering South Wales) , Bethan (covering North Wales) and Charlotte (covering Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire).
We often get asked whether or not dogs are part of our workshop sessions and in years gone by, they were! We have however, recently moved away from this and there are many reasons for this decision; some of which are pupil (and staff) focused - such as allergies and fears/phobias - but many more are dog welfare centred.
As an organisation, dog welfare is paramount to us (we are after all the largest dog welfare charity in the UK) and we therefore feel it MUST be reflected in our education programme. We of course appreciate that many pupils/students (as well as staff members!) are expecting a dog to be part of working with us, however the reality is, that the school environment can be very overwhelming, even for the best behaved and well-prepared dog.
All of us within our regional team (apart from Claire) have our own dogs at home, however, we all choose not to bring them along with us to schools - as we feel it isn’t in their best interest.
Bethan's dog - Maz
Charlotte's dog - Diggle
Having a dog in school may well be beneficial for many of the children we meet, but it needs to be equally enjoyable for our dogs. It is not sufficient, from an ethical point of view, for them to simply tolerate it. ‘Active enjoyment’ is unlikely to be achievable in a school environment for the majority of dogs and we all feel, that for our dogs, school is not the best place for them.
When explaining the reasons for our dog(s) not attending school with us, it is amazing how quickly many pupils (and staff) can overcome their disappointment and empathise with our dogs; thinking from their point of view…
Suggestions of why a school might not be the best place for a dog to be, often include:
- “Schools are really noisy - that might scare the dog”.
- “There are so many new people and smells - that might make the dog feel nervous and worried. That’s not fair”.
- “What about it’s toileting – it might not be able to hold itself!”.
- “School isn’t a normal place for a dog to be. What if it feels worried by the new place and all the people”.
- “We might be happy to see them, but they might not be happy to meet all of us – it’s a long day!”.
These are all really fantastic examples of how a dog’s welfare could be compromised in school and highlight perfectly, why we as Education & Community Officers, choose not to bring dogs in to school with us. Empathy is a key part of all the workshops we deliver and it is heart-warming to see that so many of our young people value their welfare as much as we do!