Story of a PAT Dog
My name is Ann and I work part-time as an Accounts Manager. My dog Banjo-Oreo is a Shih Tzu and has been a PAT Dog since October 2016.
He has his own disability, being born with just one eye, but this has never held him back. I have had Banjo-Oreo since he was 12 weeks old and is the fifth Shih Tzu I've owned. I currently have two other Shih Tzus (both girls) as well as Banjo-Oreo, but he is my first PAT Dog. He is the most laid back, chilled-out Shih Tzu that I have ever had. Even from 12 weeks old, he was extremely happy just playing with his toys in his own little world, or sitting at the patio window watching the world go by.
I was already aware of the charity Pets As Therapy and its work. By just watching how Banjo-Oreo was as a puppy, his laid-back temperament, how he interacted when people walked past him in the street - from the smiles that he got to the attention people gave him - it made me think that he would make a perfect therapy dog. So, at the minimum age of nine months old, Banjo-Oreo had his assessment and our PAT journey began.
In all honesty, I didn’t really think about the volunteering side, it was initially just for interest to see if Banjo-Oreo could pass the requirements of the PAT assessment. I didn’t actually think that far ahead of volunteering, what it involved, what it would be like, what establishments to visit or how often.
We received our letter confirming that Banjo-Oreo had passed his assessment and was an official PAT Dog. That moment - reading that letter and holding his certificate was the most proud moment I had felt in a long time. I was so pleased for Banjo-Oreo. From that moment, I wanted to look into the Read2Dogs scheme.
Why the Read2Dogs (R2D) scheme?
From my own personal experiences as a child, reading and especially reading out loud was not one of my strongest subjects. I was a shy child, not a confident reader and would struggle with saying longer difficult words. Because of my own personal struggles in this area, I wanted to start our PAT journey on the R2D scheme to help other children overcome their own struggles with words, reading and building their own confidence. The scheme is of great value and assists children's learning skills and abilities. This is benefited by the fact that the PAT Dog won't judge you if you are slow, have difficulty with words, or have your own personal struggles with learning. The PAT Pet just takes the child for who they are.
Banjo-Oreo is a small, cute, fluffy dog – one that children just love to see or fuss over, which made it a good starting point in getting the children interested in attending the reading session as they just wanted to "go see Banjo-Oreo".
Just stepping back and watching how he interacts with the children is amazing to see. He knows when the nursery and reception children are a little nervous meeting him for the first time so he sits very still. He doesn’t move at all so they can slowly come close to meet him.
During our reading sessions, we see two small groups of children of approx. six in a group. They take it in turns to read from their current reading books, Banjo-Oreo sits and listens to each one. At the end the children can give Banjo-Oreo some fuss if they wish to, ask any questions and they also get a paw print stamped in their reading dairies. They love getting the paw print stamped and love to compare how many stamps they can get during the year.
The difference it makes
When I first started out on our PAT journey, I had never done any type of volunteering before so I didn’t know what would be involved or if I would actually enjoy it, let alone would Banjo-Oreo enjoy it. Even though he always enjoyed going out to places and meeting people, doing it on a regular basis would have been new to him too. You hear people who volunteer saying “it's so rewarding” but until you actually do it and see the difference it makes to someone, or hear what it means to them - you don’t get the full extent on how rewarding it actually is and the feeling that it gives you. That short space of time can mean so much more to somebody else's day.
Over the years of doing the reading sessions, there have been certain children that stood out more than others. Whether because they were chattier, or a little shy, a little bit more reserved or nervous around dogs, each time these children attended a reading session, I loved seeing how much they were improving.
At the beginning of 2020, one Friday Banjo-Oreo and I had finished our session and were leaving school. In the reception waiting area were two mothers, of course Banjo-Oreo walked past tilting his head to one side and smiling at them. This always makes people smile. Both mums asked if this was the “reading dog”. They both wanted to say thank you as it meant so much when their child read to Banjo-Oreo. One mother mentioned her child was fairly small in size due to having growth health issues and sometimes was picked on due to this. She went on the explain how much he loved seeing Banjo-Oreo and always came home from school telling her all about him, saying that he really made his day. He would forget he was the smallest child in class because he knew “Banjo-Oreo was smaller than him”.
The other mother went on to explain that her son was on the autism spectrum and he loved to go and chat to Banjo-Oreo. Both mothers were so thankfull that their children had the opportunity to be able to forget their problems or worries for an hour, and chat to the dog! Just hearing how much Banjo-Oreo has improved their child's happiness gave me one of those “rewarding” moments, knowing that actually, to some children, it meant so much more than just a reading session with a dog.
On another occasion, one little girl came to read a page from her reading book but she got so upset and started to cry. It was her first time in a reading session with Banjo-Oreo and was so nervous seeing the dog. The teacher gave her a cuddle and told her that it was fine, she didn’t have to read, Banjo-Oreo wouldn't mind. A couple of months later, she attended another reading session. She came, sat next to Banjo-Oreo so he could see the pictures in her book and read a couple of pages to him beautifully. To me, seeing that improvement in her confidence the second time around compared to the first time, was clear. Her nerves of seeing the dog and reading to him had greatly improved. Sometimes the Read2Dogs sessions meant more than improving reading skills, it also helped children overcome fears they might have around dogs.
Not having any idea what to really expect when I started out on my PAT volunteering journey with Banjo-Oreo, the enjoyment and benefit it provides to others sometimes without you knowing just how much, or the enjoyment you get from it yourself - is truly “Rewarding”. You will never regret it.
We are always looking to recruit more volunteers.
You can find more info here
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