A stray dog found a forever home and a new lease of life after taking on the role of ‘therapy dog’ at a Derbyshire secondary school- boosting the wellbeing and self-esteem of pupils daily.
Staffy-cross Bella has become a ‘fully fledged member’ of the family at Shirebrook Academy, where she offers cuddles and comfort to students who might be struggling with anxiety, anger and other mental health issues.
The caring canine has a sad back story- she’d been living as a stray on the streets of Chesterfield until Abi Grocutt, who works as a safeguarding officer at the school, found and adopted her.
Once Bella, thought to be around seven years old, had settled into her new home, Abi noticed what a loving and gentle nature she had- and it wasn’t long before the school had added a four-legged friend to its register.
“The positive impact that Bella has had on the students has been incredible,” said Abi.
“I have always kept dogs who have helped me with my own struggles, and I was already running a support group, The Butterfly Project, using therapy dogs.
“I knew Bella would be a great addition to the school for students who struggle to relax and open up.
“I put the idea to staff and they were really enthusiastic and supportive, and Bella now comes in around three days a week.”
Bella even dons a uniform to blend in with the students and will soon be kitted out with her very own cosy blazer as the colder months draw in.
“You’ll often find her laying at pupils’ feet, snuggling into them while they read or meeting and greeting them with a little howl,” added Abbi.
“She definitely seems to sense when a pupil is struggling or might have additional needs.”
Similar ‘school dog’ schemes are gaining momentum in schools up and down the country and Abi would like to see more Derbyshire schools jump on board.
“I’d definitely recommend it,” she said.
“I’ve seen pupils who wouldn’t speak before regularly coming to me for a chat and better able to deal with social situations after spending time with Bella.
“Dogs offer unconditional love and understanding and I find pupils can sit with them and interact without feeling judged.”