We spoke to Laura Hines-Randle about becoming a Pets As Therapy volunteer, why she chose to volunteer with the Read2Dogs scheme, and how her golden labrador Arlo makes a difference in the school he visits.

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Volunteer profile

Name: Laura Hines-Randle

Role: Pets As Therapy volunteer

Became a volunteer: June 2018

Location:  Birmingham

PAT dog name: Arlo

Breed: Golden labrador

Age: 2 – he was born 2 April 2017

Our interview with Laura

PAT dog Arlo with his new rabbit friend

Have you always had pets?

Both my partner Ryan and I had wanted yellow labradors since we were children. Ryan never had pets, and I grew up with cats and rabbits, but my grandma had a golden lab named Tess when I was little.

My parents did get a retired greyhound when I was older, but Arlo is the first dog I’ve had and trained myself. We also now have two lionhead rabbits, and Arlo is excited by that – he just wants to play with them and make friends!

What made you decide to become a Pets As Therapy volunteer?

Arlo has always been intelligent. He picked up obedience training easily and was soon getting his Bronze and Silver awards with the Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme. Labradors are known for being bright but a bit ‘dippy’ and Arlo fits into this category perfectly. You could always see the excitement Arlo got from interacting with people, especially children and I was desperate to nurture his instinct and keep his mind sharp.

I was scrolling through Instagram one evening when I noticed a post about a PAT dog. I had no idea what ‘PAT’ meant and being an inquisitive soul, I went to Google. I read up on the website about volunteering, what it involved and the type of placements. It was just what I had been after; I could encourage Arlo to interact with humans but also give back to those in my area.

It was just what I had been after; I could encourage Arlo to interact with humans but also give back to those in my area.

Then doubt hit me. Although Arlo is amazing, he was only one year old and could still have the odd day where he decided to jump up at a visitor or ignore me. After a few days of mulling it over, though, we signed up – there was no harm in seeing what could happen.

You volunteer as part of our Read2Dogs scheme – why did you choose this scheme?

On our Read2Dogs scheme Pets As Therapy volunteers visit local primary schools with their PAT dog, and sit with children whilst they read a story. The presence of the dog helps children who are reluctant readers to relax and to practice reading in a safe, non-judgmental space.

I noticed the Read2Dogs scheme when we were applying to become Pets As Therapy volunteers. Arlo adores children and he naturally knows how to behave around them. He is around children of varying ages regularly due to our big families and he instinctively knows to be calm, gentle and placid around those smaller than him.

I have always been an avid reader, especially as a child, I would love getting lost in the mischief of Mildred Hubble from The Worst Witch, the adventures of the Famous Five or the antics of the animals being treated at the Animal Ark clinic. It’s no secret that children are lost in the worlds of television and Xbox games and as time goes on, I’ve noticed more and more of the children I know not wanting a bedtime story but 5 minutes on the iPad. Reading was such a big part of my childhood and I wanted to encourage and inspire others to pick up books.

Reading was such a big part of my childhood and I wanted to encourage and inspire others to pick up books.

PAT dog Arlo on a Read2Dogs visit

How did you find the Pets As Therapy application process?

I was nervous on the day of our assessment. I dreaded Arlo jumping up a little old lady or suddenly forgetting all his training. I met the two ladies testing us at a local garden centre. I had suggested the location as there was a café, lots of noise, people and best of all very young children. The ladies we met were great and had a very relaxed manner which instantly chilled us both out.

Arlo wowed them with his food manners and how placid he was when a toddler approached out of nowhere to pet him. I’d already shared that I had thought long and hard and felt Arlo would be best suited to a Read2Dogs placement. I hoped one day he could visit hospitals and retirement homes but I felt his current maturity and experience with youngsters was better suited to this scheme. They agreed and I was thrilled.

The test itself went smoothly, the examiners just wanted to know that your dog is safe, calm and well behaved. They expect a calm greeting with four paws on the ground and no negative reactions to fuss, attention and loud noises.

What was your first placement as a PAT volunteer?

PAT dog Arlo in his bandanaI was keen to start at a primary school as I felt Arlo would flourish in the environment and I too would feel more confident talking about fairies, pirates and dinosaurs than Cardi B (still no idea who she is) and what the older children of today discuss. I contacted local schools in our area, and had one response, which was actually from Coleshill Primary School, which happens to be the school I had attended as a child!

Within days I had met the Literacy Lead and we had discussed what the programme was and how sessions would work. I had to send their details to Pets As Therapy so they could be added to the system and have all the documentation sent to them. It was easier than I thought.

A few weeks later I came into the school with Arlo to lead an assembly. This was important to me as I wanted the children to be excited about the prospect of reading to Arlo but also lay the foundation for some simple rules. I called these rules the ‘Big Five’ and added each of them to part of a paw print. The children range from nursery to Year Six so I needed my talk to appeal to all age groups. I kept my presentation simple and made it interactive. I started with a quiz on Arlo so they could learn about his breed, age and likes. I then explained that Arlo loved stories and I was desperate for him to hear more but I didn’t have the time. The kids loved it and were so excited to help. I knew I had made the right decision as Arlo was great in the noisy environment and couldn’t get enough of the fuss he received from the children.

Soon enough we were starting our sessions and I have never seen Arlo so desperate to get into a building. I love walking past the playground and having the children call out to him and gasp “it’s Arlo” and “Miss, when can I read to him?”. Arlo has been known to cry at the office front door on the odd occasion when he hasn’t been let in fast enough, he really enjoys his time at the school.

How do you think Arlo has made a difference at the school?

There was one moment a few weeks ago that has stuck with me and made me feel we had made the world of difference. The Year One teacher ran up to me excitedly to show me a photo of her student in the class reading corner. The child was one of Arlo’s friends and he had enjoyed his session so much, that he had ran to the reading corner to pick his book for the next week. The teacher then explained that it was impossible to get the little one to even pick up a book usually so this had been a massive achievement. I went home really feeling like Arlo and I had made a difference that day and it was a wonderful feeling.

The children are really enthusiastic about reading with Arlo, and when we’re walking through the school we often hear children shouting “I wish I could read to Arlo”. I love knowing we have made a difference and have encouraged reluctant readers to pick up a book. There is nothing better than when they run around the corner with a new book that they want to show Arlo. 

Can we keep updated with Arlo’s journey?

Of course! You can follow us on Instagram @arlo_the_good_labrador to see more of Arlo’s life, and behind-the-scenes at his Pets As Therapy Read2Dogs visits.

Read more volunteer stories

We would love to hear your stories about Pets As Therapy, whether you’re a volunteer, an establishment that works with us, or someone who has been visited by a PAT pet. To submit your story please contact marketing@monchu.uk.

We are also always looking for new recruits to carry on the incredible work that volunteers like Laura and Arlo do. If you are interested in volunteering for Pets As Therapy, please fill out our application form, and we’ll be in touch.