It has been a difficult year for school pupils across Tayside as they adjust between home schooling and being back in the classroom. One local school is using pet therapy to help ease the transition for pupils and staff alike.
During what has been a turbulent and disruptive year for school pupils across the country, at Monifieth High School, pupils and staff have been taking advantage of the therapeutic effects of animals to help deal with and process the impact of Covid-19.
Head teacher, M-C McInally explains: “We started doing ‘Furry Fridays’ where anybody with a friendly pet could bring it in. We had rabbits, chickens and even alpacas one week.
“You could see the sheer joy on the children’s faces, and with the care and compassion they showed, I thought we were really onto something.”
Realising the transformative effect animals can have on mental health, the school enrolled their smallest pupil, who is now well-acquainted with alleviating stress and anxiety.
Shelby, a one-year-old cavapoochon (part Cavalier King Charles spaniel, poodle and bichon frise) has become an integral part of not only the wellbeing programme, but of school life.
M-C continues: “We’ve been able to get young people over the school door just to have some time with Shelby.
“She goes on walks with young people at break and lunch times. She goes out on litter picks. She can be booked out for a bit of quiet time where we chat about our feelings.
“Shelby has also had a few days where she’s not felt very well, just because she’s a wee puppy.
“We’ve been able to use that as a learning experience and say to pupils ‘Shelby’s not feeling very well today, just like you’re maybe not feeling great’. It just opens out all these other conversations.”
Shelby’s therapeutic powers speak for themselves.
M-C continues: “You find out things about the pupils that you might not have, because they want to just come and see Shelby.
“Because they’re not necessarily talking to you, they’re talking to Shelby, you can tease a lot more out. We can then signpost people to where they need to go, such as a guidance teacher.
“She also gives that opportunity to hug. I think we’re missing physical contact and she gets a lot of hugs. She’s been a really good addition to the school. She just gets children talking.
“I do believe the more we can assist people to get on – and it doesn’t matter whether that’s with other humans or with animals – it helps us be less selfish.”
Not only has Shelby helped staff and pupils through difficult times throughout the pandemic, she also has an effect on morale and enthusiasm for school.
School business manager, Denise Smith – who shares an office with Shelby – explains: “You can see their anxieties dropping and the motivation coming back.
“She opens up conversation and then when you’re going for walks with the dog, you can ask the pupil about their day, their classes.
“For some pupils, knowing Shelby will be here at school tomorrow gives them the motivation to come in.”