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Lincolnshire Gateway Academies Trust

Paws and Read

Bella the Therapy Dog visits children at Pilgrim Academy every week.

Bella is an 11-year-old chocolate Labrador who attends with her owner and volunteer handler, Dave.

They have been visiting at Pilgrim Academy for a few years and help the pupils with their reading.

Therapy Dogs Nationwide places temperament assessed dogs with their volunteer handlers into schools under their ‘Paws & Read Scheme’.

Some children can often be nervous and uncomfortable when reading aloud in a classroom, especially if they are struggling. This programme allows the children to read to their therapy dog, as a patient, attentive and perfect listener.

One pupil said: “She makes me feel calm when I read to Bella and she is never bothered if we mess up a word or need to take our time.”

The children in each class visit Bella in the library where they each read to her, and she quite often will fall asleep listening to their voices.

Dave said: “Bella loves to listen to the children, who always try their very best to impress her. She’s very easy to win over, especially if there’s a treat or a belly rub involved.”

The ‘Paws & Read Scheme’ also helps with self-esteem and behavioural problems creating a calm atmosphere and teaching them how to behave appropriately and respectfully around animals.

The children in Tadpoles and Frogs class recently had story time with Bella, where they all listened to 'Three Billy Goats Gruff' and took part in the interactive reading of the book. Bella sat perfectly and allowed the children to stroke her and give her treats. She even had a little nap whilst listening to the story.

A pupil said: “We love it when Bella comes to see us.”

Bella is part of the Therapy Dogs Nationwide charity, who visit many different establishments with their calm and happy dogs. Each dog is unique, coming in all shapes, sizes and breeds and visiting a range of places such as hospitals, schools, universities, residential homes and prisons.

Principal Rachel Clarke said: “We are so grateful to have Bella and Dave visit us each week, the children all look forward to their visits and I think a lot of the staff do as well.

We see first-hand what a difference it makes to the children’s confidence when reading to Bella and it’s wonderful to see them open up and enjoy reading.”