Wendy Clark has been a registered Pets As Therapy volunteer since May 2017, volunteering alongside her French Bulldog Ted. In this interview she tells us about her relationship with Ted, the difference he has made for children at the Primary School they visit, and why dogs make such great therapy animals.
Pets As Therapy volunteer profile
Name: Wendy Clark
Location: Hayling Island, Hampshire
Became volunteer: May 2017
PAT dog name: Ted
PAT dog breed: French Bulldog
PAT dog age: 4 years
Our interview with Wendy
How did your PAT dog, Ted, come into your life?
My husband bought Ted for me in October 2015 when he was just 12 weeks old. I grew up with Boxers and I just adore those squishy faces, but as I’m getting on a bit now (!) I realised it might be better to get a smaller dog now. So Ted is my substitute Boxer.
At the time we had three Staffordshire Bull Terriers as well, and my husband had to convince the lady who owns Ted’s mum that Ted would be okay living with them. That’s why I started Ted’s Instagram profile initially, so she could keep an eye on him! I’m just amazed at how many followers Ted has now.
What is Ted like as a pet?
Ted is the laziest dog in the world – he can literally sleep all day. He does little snorts when he’s happy. He does have short spurts of energy when he just charges about (known by frenchie owners as ‘zoomies’) And he absolutely loves to be chased!
We live near the beach and he is happiest sniffing and snorting his way on a walk and playing fetch with a tennis ball. He adores his human and dog family, children, shops that give out dog treats, neck scratches and gravy bones. He’s incredibly loyal and is just my best friend.
What difference have dogs made in your life?
I’ve had dogs my whole life. I love dogs of all shapes and sizes and can never go past one without saying hello. Every now and then if you are lucky a dog comes into your life that imprints on you. I have that with Ted. Despite having three other dogs he’s constantly looking for me. He won’t go for a walk without me. He’s never far away. He can tell if I’m sad, or in pain or unwell.
What made you decide to volunteer with Pets As Therapy?
I knew from early on that Ted was a special dog. When my granddaughters came to stay he would go and cuddle up if one of them was homesick or sad. He just knew. But I think the turning point was when I went to stay with my mum just after my stepdad had passed away. He spent the whole time sitting next to my mum. It was as if he knew she was sad and needed comfort. I knew we had to share this with other people, just like my mum, who needed comfort too, and didn’t have their own pet.
Pets As Therapy’s Read2Dogs scheme interested me particularly because of my own history with working with children. I was a playgroup assistant and registered childminder for 10 years. My own children are grown up and my two grandchildren live about three hours away. I missed being around young children. As a mum of a dyslexic child, I know how some children struggle with reading, and can find reading to an adult daunting. But most children will happily read to dogs – that’s why it’s such a great scheme, making reading into an enjoyable experience rather than one to be dreaded.
What is a typical visit like?
We visit a local primary school called Mengham Infants, on Hayling Island where we live. As soon as Ted sees me put on my pets as therapy hoodie he knows we are off to school and he is so excited! We started off with a group of four or five Year 2 children who had been identified with different emotional or learning needs. It proved so popular that we started coming in two days a week so we could see some year one children too.
Ted has his own small blanket that we take everywhere. If I put his blanket down he settles straight away, so the blanket comes with us on the visits. We’ll settle in the classroom or in the library, and the children come and see us in turns. They choose whether they want to sit next to him or on a beanbag. Then we start reading.
As soon as they start to read Ted will lie down, and he often falls asleep and snores (I always say that means he’s really enjoying his story!) I have had some stickers and book marks made which say ‘I read to Ted’ on them. When they have finished reading they choose what colour sticker they want and then they give Ted a treat. It’s a lovely routine that works very well.
Are there any children that Ted has made a particular difference to?
I have worked with several children who have been memorable but one comes to mind. A little girl had been bitten on the face by a dog and, understandably, was absolutely terrified of Ted. After lots of gentle encouragement she went from crying when we walked into the classroom to asking to read to him and even sitting next to him! We’ve also had a few children that have been a little nervous around dogs that we have encouraged to come and say hi.
I love that our volunteering has had an impact on so many children, just by having a dog come to school. Juno, my young frenchie girl has recently been assessed and is now also a registered PAT dog and we’re planning to take her to care homes – she is a very cuddly girl and loves a fuss.
Why is pet therapy important?
Most dogs are therapy dogs to their owners every single day. I’m so happy that I can share the love a dog can bring. It is known that stroking a dog can reduce stress and anxiety. My Ted is a special little dog and makes me so proud.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also always looking for new recruits to carry on the incredible work that volunteers like Barry and Holly do. If you are interested in volunteering for Pets As Therapy, please fill out our application form, and we’ll be in touch.