Community Dog Handler Sarah

Meet the team - community dog handler Sarah

Tell us about your role as a community dog handler

Using the techniques of Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) I work alongside a specially-trained community dog to help adults and children to work towards individual goals.

I’ll work with a professional from the client support team to set goals and plan the intervention. This involves designing a programme of engaging activities with the dog so we meet the individual needs of each person.

Goals can be very varied and may include helping a client with:

  • Social inclusion/interaction
  • Self care
  • Road safety
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Confidence to go out in the community
  • Building a relationship
  • Taking responsibility
  • Reducing a fear of dogs
  • Motivation to learn new skills or take part in a regular activity
  • Health and exercise

Who do you and your community dog help?

I work with a variety of people with special needs such as autism, learning disabilities and mental health to overcome specific challenges and develop new skills.

Our clients are from our partnership organisations, for example Autism at Kingwood, StyleAcre, Hertfordshire County Council and Bracknell Forest Council.

What’s the best thing about your role?

There are many! Seeing how the dogs can make such a difference to people lives and enhance their quality of life or improve their independence. The joy on the clients faces when we arrive each week and the positive comments from the support teams.

I love the variety of the role as no two days are the same, and of course the privilege of working with such lovely dogs each day and experiencing how they enjoy their work.

When did you start working with dogs?

Dogs have been an important part of my life since an early age. As a teenager, I used to walk neighbours’ and friends’ dogs and helped out at a rescue centre for a while near my home in Somerset. I then started to train my own dogs, worked as a welfare assistant for the RSPCA and helped to run a dog club on the Isle of Man before eventually becoming a Partnership Instructor for Hearing Dogs, where I stayed for 12 years.

Why did you want to work for Dogs for Good?

Having worked for another assistance dog organisation, I know how a dog can make an amazing difference to someone’s life. I’ve had a long-standing interest in how the special relationship between dogs and humans could be developed to help people facing different types of medical and learning challenges.

When I saw that Dogs for Good was starting a new initiative for adults with autism, I jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

Dementia Community Dog Handler Julia

Meet dementia community dog handler Julia

Tell us about your role

The Dementia Dog project is a charitable collaboration between Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good. Our Dementia Community Dog programme explores how a specially trained community dog can help people with dementia feel more confident and connected in their community.

I work with dementia community dog Georgie alongside a dementia care practitioner to deliver goal-focussed dementia intervention. We use the techniques of Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) The intervention is a tailored six-week plan of weekly visits and we put an emphasis on fun and engaging activities. Our work can link in with someone’s existing support plan.

We also deliver safe and relaxed social events called Dog Days in Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire. These have the look and feel of a café or coffee morning, with the added bonus of fun dog related activities. Open to people with all stages of dementia, Dog Days enable people to interact with well trained pet dogs to encourage social interaction and bring joy.

Who do you help?

We help people living with dementia and their families and carers.

What’s the best thing about your role?

It’s great that no two days are the same. Each day varies and can range from training Georgie, to working with a client, filling out paperwork or setting up a Dog Day.

When did you start working with dogs?

I have always wanted to be around dogs, ever since I can remember. From walking my neighbours dogs to volunteering at animal rescue centres. I started to get involved with training dogs when I had my first rescue dog. Whilst getting my degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, I spent a lot of  time at my local animal rescue where I then worked as Assistant Manager for a couple of years.

Why did you want to work for Dogs for Good?

I have always been fascinated with assistance dog charities and the amazing impact a dog can have on someone’s life. I initially joined Dogs for Good as a puppy coordinator and greatly enjoyed that role for 7 years. When the opportunity arose to join the community dog team to help people with dementia I knew straight away that I wanted to be involved.

Community Dog Handler Amy

Tell us about your role

I’m working for two days a week as a community dog handler alongside Rita, a German shepherd cross golden retriever.  Initially, I have been working with Bracknell Forest Council for one day a week supporting adults with learning disabilities and autism.  I’ve been working with the social care team and working alongside the occupational therapists and social workers to support young adults living at home or in a supported living / social care setting.  My other day is in Cheltenham at Charlton Lane hospital and Rita and I are based mainly based on a specialist dementia care ward, although I’ll also visit people at home.

What’s the best thing about your role?

There have been lovely moments of interactions between patients on the ward and Rita. One man’s face lit up when he saw Rita for the second time and we had a really good session where he was able to ask me if Rita was a ‘therapy dog’ and told me about his own dog. For this particular patient this was a huge moment of insight as he is quite often not ‘in the moment’ with you. Quite often the presence of Rita will strike up conversations with patients about dogs they’ve had or known.

Patients are also really motivated to interact with her and to take part in our activities. She provides a focal point for patients and a common interest, especially in the group sessions. Rita’s very gentle nature and her keenness to meet people and be made a fuss of makes her very well suited to the role. Interacting with Rita also relieves anxieties for some patients and can interrupt negative thought patterns. She does her ‘task work’ really carefully and concisely which again has been very beneficial to her role and the patients really respond to this.

How has your previous experience helped you in this role?

I have spent the last three years working as a paediatric therapy assistant for a local authority, which has really helped me with this new role. I worked alongside occupational therapists and physiotherapists working with children with disabilities, implementing treatment programmes, working on set goals and doing community visits, so all really relevant experience. Also previous experience through my roles as an instructor on the Family Dog workshops and a trainer have been very beneficial, especially with intervention ideas and training Rita to support her in her role.