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Schools

How Dundee school dog Reggie melts troubles away for Katie, 15

The golden retriever is regarded as a much-loved member of the pupil support team at St Paul's Academy. reports.
Cheryl Peebles
St Paul's Academy dog Reggie getting a cuddle from Katie, 15.
Reggie has triggered amazing change for Katie Dunn. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

Katie Dunn, 15, suffers from anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and was so distressed by germs she wore gloves.

But her bond with Reggie, the St Paul’s Academy dog, has transformed her life – and the gloves are gone.

Golden retriever Reggie attends the Dundee secondary every Thursday with his ‘mum’ head teacher Kirsty Small.

St Paul’s is one of a growing number of schools to have its own dog, amid recognition of the benefits animals can have in education settings in mental health, attendance and learning.

Others locally include Baldragon Academy and Kingspark School.

And Kirsty says he creates a calmness throughout the school as well as being therapeutic for pupils with additional support needs like Katie.

In school it’s sometimes hard but if he’s here it’s not.”

Katie Dunn, S3

S3 pupil Katie’s anxiety is so severe she is often reluctant to go to school. Her fear of germs exacerbated that, making her terrified to touch things with her bare hands.

But she says: “When I’m with Reggie I don’t think about anything else. It’s like all my worries go away.”

A psychologist from NHS Tayside Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service working with Katie told the school they were amazed by the improvement in her obsessive compulsive disorder.

Dog Reggie and pupil Katie playing with a ball on a rope
Katie and Reggie love their weekly play sessions. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

Kirsty says: “She has her hands in Reggie’s mouth getting the ball out. We just can’t believe the difference.”

Katie has a weekly session with 18-month-old Reggie on her timetable.

The pair go outside to play, accompanied by a guidance teacher or Kirsty. Sometimes they just cuddle. The contact helps Katie to talk if she needs to.

Katie says: “In school it’s sometimes hard but if he’s here it’s not.

“He comes up to you and you’re fine instantly.

He has created bridges where we didn’t know they were broken.”

Head teacher Kirsty Small

“He licks your face or sits with you and cosies in.

“When I don’t want to come into school my mum says ‘it’s Thursday, you’ll see Reggie’ and it makes me want to come in.

“It all just disappears. He makes me feel happy.”

Reggie also spends time in the school’s enhanced support area, where his presence is calming for pupils with special needs.

Or staff members will drop in to Kirsty’s office to take him for a walk with a pupil who is distressed or in need of time out.

Kirsty says his presence has helped the whole school in ways she never expected.

Reggie wearing a school tie
Reggie, wearing a St Paul’s tie, is regarded part of the pupil support team at the academy. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

“He has created bridges where we didn’t know they were broken.”

As well as calming pupils when they are heightened, Reggie brings together young people who wouldn’t normally mix and he can ease difficult conversations.

Kirsty says: “He creates a calmness with the children.

“At break times and lunchtimes I always make sure he’s out and about.

“It gives us a good excuse to be out and about seeing what’s going on but it doesn’t make it feel like we are watching.

Getting people talking

“It brings kids together as they come over and speak to each other about him. They’ll say ‘I have a dog, what kind of dog have you got?’

“That’s something we hadn’t anticipated.”

Reggie can also help pupils open up.

Kirsty says: “Pupils speak to you easily when he’s here. He distracts them when they are not sure how they should begin a conversation.

“He puts his head in their lap and they are rubbing his ears before they even know.”

Reggie is Kirsty’s family dog but when he was a puppy she realised he could play a role in school.

Head teacher Kirsty Small and pupil Katie stroke Reggie as he lies on the ground.
Reggie’s good-nature make him perfect to be St Paul’s Academy’s resident dog, says head teacher and his owner, Kirsty Small (left). Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

“When we saw how good-natured he is and how young people reacted to him, we thought there’s something in this.”

Parents and staff were consulted and Mrs Small says: “Not one parent came back with anything negative, it was all positive.

“They said ‘this is amazing, more schools should do this’.

“Even staff who are allergic to dogs said they still wanted to meet him so they would bring in antihistamines!”

When he was four months old he started going to school to get used to the environment.

Bed in the head teacher’s office

And he very quickly made himself at home and proved his worth.

Kirsty says: “He has taught himself. When young people come in upset he goes to them and puts his head on their knees.

“He just senses it. He’s the same at home, he knows if there’s something wrong. If you’re tired or upset he will curl up beside you.”

Reggie has a bed in Kirsty’s office, where he can retreat when he needs a rest during  a busy day.

Although she would love to bring him in more regularly, she says one day is enough for him.

“It is a job for him when he comes in.

“Thursday is the only night of the week he doesn’t get a big walk because he’s had about four walks during the day at least, and lots of running about.

“It would be great to have him here everyday but it is exhausting for him and it’s a lot for me to manage too.

“At the end of the day, he’s my dog and I have to look after and care for him too.”

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