We spoke to Pets As Therapy volunteer Imogen Woodman about her relationship with her dog, Millie, fitting volunteering in alongside studying at university, and being nominated for the Young Kennel Club Young Person of the Year Award at Crufts 2019.
Volunteer name: Imogen Woodman
Volunteer age: 20
Volunteer location: Crawly Down, West Sussex
Dog’s name: Millie
Dog’s breed: Miniature Labradoodle
Dog’s age: 9
All about you
How do you balance university studies with volunteering?
I’m currently studying a degree in Applied Canine Behaviour and Training at university. Most of my volunteering responsibilities are during the day, so I do most of my studying in the mornings and evenings – as well as on days when I don’t have volunteering.
Do you have an idea of what you’d like to do after you graduate?
I’d love to have a career in training dogs for TV and film work. Millie and I have previously done some TV work and I’d love to do it professionally.
Have you always had dogs as pets?
Millie is my first dog, but I’d wanted a dog for as long as I can remember! My parents finally relented when I was 11. I chose Millie when she was 6 weeks old and brought her home when she was 10 weeks old. She’s been my best friend ever since – she’s the most amazing companion, she’s always ready to go on a long walk, play, do some training, or just have a cuddle. We also now have another dog, called Rumpelstiltskin, who is a young rescue dog.
How has Millie made a difference in your life?
Millie’s completely changed my life. Before getting Millie, I was very shy and wouldn’t talk to anyone. She’s given me confidence to do things I’d never have dreamed of doing without her.
Millie and I have attended dog training classes since she was a few months old. To begin with, she was incredibly naughty and would always run off – we were constantly in the naughty corner! However, we persevered and worked our way through the Kennel Club Good Citizen Awards. I started teaching Millie tricks, and we have since been on multiple TV shows, including CBBC ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ and ‘Officially Amazing’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Millie even holds the Guinness World Record for ‘fastest 10m travelled on a barrel by a dog’! We’ve also competed in obedience, and last year came 3rd in our obedience class at Crufts. I’d never have imagined we’d do any of this!
Millie’s inspired me to study a degree in dog training and pursue a career in dog training, particularly for media work. It’s also because of her that I now volunteer at the club that we’ve attended for the last 9 years, and volunteer as an assistance dog trainer for Dog AID. I am also a Certified Trick Dog Instructor through ‘Do More With Your Dog’, thanks to Millie.
Millie’s also helped me through personal difficulties. She’s always there for me and will listen and come and give me a hug! She’s my best friend and we’ve been through a lot together, I don’t know what I’d do without her.
Volunteering with Pets As Therapy
When did you and Millie become Pets As Therapy volunteers?
We became Pets As Therapy volunteers in September last year, 2018.
Millie has always loved people and thrives on attention! She’s always instinctually known who needs her. Just over a year ago, Millie was diagnosed with arthritis. This means she’s no longer able to do lots of her tricks or compete as much. However, she’s still very active and loves to work. I thought by becoming a therapy dog, she still gets to go out and work, which she and I both love, and she’s helping others, so it’s a win all round!
What establishments do you visit?
We currently visit Francis Court, a care home, once a week. Millie loves her Pets As Therapy volunteer visits! She can’t wait to get through the doors and has learnt who makes a big fuss of her! She also knows when it’s time for afternoon tea and cake – and who gives it to her!
I’d love to go to a school or hospital with children too – Millie loves the interaction with children.
How do the residents react to seeing Millie?
People love meeting Millie, she reminds them of dogs they used to own and we often hear about them. She’s also calmed people down and stopped them from screaming and being upset by going over and sitting with them. Even people who haven’t owned dogs love meeting her and seeing a couple of her tricks!
What does being a Pets As Therapy volunteer mean to you?
I really enjoy spending the quality time with Millie and seeing the positive effect she has on people.
Your award nomination
Every year Young Kennel Club members are nominated to win an award for their work, in one of five categories: Champion Volunteer, Fundraiser, Good Buddy, Sporting Talent and Young Braveheart. This year Imogen was the winner of the Champion Volunteer category, meaning that she was a finalist for the Young Person Award of the Year. The general public vote for the overall winner, who will be announced at Crufts.
Why you were nominated for this award?
I was nominated for the voluntary work I do with dogs. The work Millie and I do with Pets As Therapy is part of this. Additionally, I am volunteer secretary and trainer at East Grinstead and District Dog Training Club, where Millie and I have attended for the last 9 years. I also volunteer to train assistance dogs with Dog AID, and do a little bit for the charity Paws2Rescue where I got my young dog from.
What does the award mean to you?
I’m very surprised and happy to have won my category for this award. I really enjoy the voluntary work I do, it’s nice to know it’s making a difference to people. I’m really grateful to have been selected, and am looking forward to Crufts 2019!
If you’re interested in becoming a Pets As Therapy volunteer and would like to know more, please visit the ‘join us’ section of the website.