Cute, often fluffy, and proven to boost your mood – research suggests that having a pet around has a deeply beneficial effect on your mental health.
Pets, in particular dogs and cats, can reduce anxiety, improve hearth health, support child development, reduce stress and elevate low mood in humans. A 2020 survey from HABRI (Human Animal Bond Research Institute) revealed that 74% of pet owners surveyed reported significant mental health improvements from pet ownership; it’s clear that the human-animal bond is a powerful one.
Animal companionship can also have a therapeutic effect on children and young people who have complex emotional and behavioural needs. Being around animals can have a wealth of therapeutic benefits, improving confidence, teaching empathy, developing social skills and providing essential comfort.
Diesel, the French Bulldog, is testament to just this.
Diesel is the school dog at one of our wonderful Compass Schools, Coastal Park. Despite only being 20 weeks old, his presence at Coastal Park has already had an incredible effect on the students and staff there.
Diesel’s owner is Coastal Park’s Head of School, Julie Lumley, who had previous experience with therapy dogs in schools; ‘I knew the difference a school dog could make. It was phenomenal; the benefits were there.’
With permission from the school’s Group Head, Julie began researching about school dogs and child-friendly breeds; ‘I researched the best dog breeds for working with children. Cockapoos came up, and so did French bulldogs – I love French bulldogs.’
It wasn’t long before Julie had found Diesel and taken him home with her. Julie began socialising Diesel right away, introducing him to the school, her students, and his new life.
‘From the moment I picked him up, he started coming into school with me – the children have known him from day one.’
Since then, the benefits that Diesel’s presence has had on the children at Coastal Park have been immense. As a school that specialises in complex emotional and behavioural needs, sometimes the students at Coastal Park have difficulty in regulating their behaviour and emotions. Diesel helps to calm, soothe, and comfort some of these students in times of need.
One example of this is the walks that Julie takes with Diesel and her pupils.
‘I’ll take him on walks with children who have been having a difficult day. We saddle Diesel up, they get their coat on, and we go for a walk – just me, the child, and the dog.’
These walks help provide the children with the time, space, and fresh air to cool off and return to the classroom.
‘They (the children) are so gentle. We’ve got children here who can sometimes be violent or disruptive, but they can’t wait to see Diesel. They sit with him, and stroke him, and kiss him; it’s wonderful to see.’
Julie says Diesel accompanies her wherever she goes, be that on her visits to pupil’s homes, meetings, or showing new children around the school.
‘When Diesel’s there, it’s not stressful that the Head Teacher has come to visit you in your home. There’s a dog here, and the dog wants to jump on the trampoline.’ Diesel’s presence helps to diffuse tension and relieve pressure in these situations, helping the children feel calmer – like they have a friend in the room.
School dogs also improve social interaction in children, helping to build confidence and alleviate feelings of isolation. Julie has seen proof of this in one of her pupils, who had a tough time making connections with staff and fellow pupils, before meeting Diesel.
‘There’s one boy, who really struggled to build relationships. I know I certainly struggled to build a relationship with him at first. But Diesel managed to break down his barriers.’
It’s clear that Diesel’s presence has had a profoundly positive impact on the pupils and staff at Coastal Park. From providing comfort, to building confidence, to easing stress – Diesel is a dog of many talents.
And Diesel loves his work, too. According to Julie, ‘he’s always so excited to come into school. Before the children get in, he runs around the classrooms looking for them.’
Julie’s confident that getting a school dog has been the right decision; ‘I can’t imagine the school without him anymore. I think every school should have a dog.’
‘It’s been the most positive thing I’ve done.’
If you’re interested in joining our school community, check out our careers page to see our jobs listings. Alternatively, you can contact us to find out more about working within our schools and how you can make a difference to our children’s lives.