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Project Paws: Meet the school therapy dog raising smiles at Alness Academy

Therapet Bru is a star pupil at Alness Academy.

Meet Bru – school dog and star pupil at Alness Academy.

Border collie Bru is a ‘therapet’ – a therapy dog brought into the school to support pupils.

Bru has brought joy to Alness Academy since his arrival earlier this year, under what the school call Project Paws.

Project Paws started earlier this year to help children ease back into school life post-lockdown. “Bru started with us at the end of January as a way of lowering anxiety for the children of key workers,” says headteacher Craig Paterson. “He came to us when times were fraught and anxious.”

Stress reliever

Geography teacher Janet McDonald is the proud owner of Bru, and volunteers with the charity Pets As Therapy. Mrs McDonald has always used dogs for geography field work but is amazed at the difference her pet has made to the whole school community.

“It has been a real privilege to bring a dog like Bru into school and see the difference it makes to the children,” said Mrs McDonald. “One of our students described it as a wave of calmness coming over an area where the dog is working. Many staff also benefit from Bru being in school and tell me that a two-second cuddle with Bru is a real stress reliever.”

Bru supports pupils at Alness Academy in two main ways. Under Project Paws, Bru provides wellbeing support for pupils who have additional support needs, or who are simply having a tough time in their lives. Pupils can talk to their guidance teacher while petting Bru, or simply take him out for a walk and enjoy a change of scene and some fresh air.

‘I am more happy to be in school’

A new initiative called Paws for Stress sees Bru help pupils gain confidence in their learning. “This is a study event where pupils interact with the dog,” explains Mr Paterson. “It’s part of a literacy and numeracy project at the school. We encourage reluctant readers to read to Bru instead of to their classmates. It helps to take the fear out of it. For many pupils, a page of writing makes them freeze up. Reading to a therapet takes the pressure off.”

School dog Bru and pupil Dominika Kalbukowska
Pupil Dominika Kalbukowska and Alness Academy ‘therapet’ Bru

One pupil who has benefited from Project Paws said: “I have less worries or arguments in class with teachers and pupils. I feel it has made me calmer. I am more happy to be in school, I feel more welcome to the school.”

Alness royalty

Bru has proved so popular that the school hopes to get a second therapet and expand their work with therapy dogs.

Alness Academy was officially opened by HRH The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, in June this year – but HRH was not the only star of that show. Bru was there too, proudly decked out in a purple Alness Academy bow tie.

School dog at Alness
Bru met HRH Princess Anne at the opening of Alness Academy this summer.

“He is so popular, when he walks to school all the pupils and staff stop to say hello,” says Mr Paterson. “He is a real mood lifter.”

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