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Paws for Thought!

It has to be said that following 5 weeks of lock-down, not only are we experiencing daily routines that we've never experienced before, but so to are our pets. They're experiencing family members permanently based at home, providing them with relentless amounts of attention and seeking ways to ease the boredom, which must have thrown many pets into an utter state of confusion. The UK's Covid-19 lock-down has coincided with National Pet Month, whose focus is to remind us about the responsibilities of pet ownership, but also to encourage us to celebrate the benefits of our pets.

Ever since being a young child I have been surrounded by pets, from my first, a goldfish, won originally through 'hook a duck' at the local fair, who I am proud to say lived for 9 years, to budgies, rabbits, cats then dogs (notice the increase in size? - weird!). I better say now before my husband reads this, I have no intention of getting a horse! Currently, my household is filled with a selection of furry and non furry friends; fish, that I've always felt as being therapeutic, (so much so I had a fish tank in my classroom for 10 years), to Barney my 6 year old cat, George my 7 year old Old English Sheepdog and Bernard my 4 year old British Bulldog. All of which live in harmony - most of the time!

What are the benefits of having a pet?

Pet's don't just fill our hearts, I think they make it stronger,and whilst there have been many a scientific study to confirm the positive benefits of pet ownership, highlighting a decrease in depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness; they also show the benefits through increased opportunities such as socialising, (the number of times we stop for a natter with complete strangers whilst dog walking, social distancing rules being applied of course!) to exercise and outdoor activities. However the main thing I believe pets provide, which underpins a positive mindset is ...............JOY, HAPPINESS and a sense of CALM!

My pets provide unconditional love for every member of our family. Felt more so currently during our uncertain climate, when we can often find ourselves overthinking the 'what if's? Worrying about our health, our finances and life as we knew it; then that little look from across the room, the nudge on my knee or the paw landing on my lap are all reminders that allow me to centralise my thoughts, bring me back to the here and now and make me realise how grateful I am for who I have around me, elevating a sense of calmness. They accept me for who I am because I provide them with love and friendship too.

"Pets don’t make judgements about physical appearance or abilities, and they don’t care how big your house is or what you do for a living. They care about the quality of your character and your capacity to love.” 

Elizabeth Eiler, Reiki Master and Author

George, more so than Bernard, is like a shadow, he even follows me around when hoovering, which can get quite cosy as we both try to turn around in tight corners. Even on the most dreariest of days they're both around to give us all a warm welcome. And when we leave the house and return they're watching and waiting, they're not distracted by devices, TV or Tik Tok. With pets you get 100% loyalty and comfort, which is proven to increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. Studies have found that dogs can help ease stress and loneliness for older people, as well as help calm pre-exam stress for college students. One study found that just 10 minutes of petting a dog or cat can lower cortisol levels. And in these times of uncertainty, which for many will be magnifying those emotions triggered by our fixed mindset (worry, anxiousness, nervousness etc.) it has raised my awareness more than ever, as to the many benefits of being a pet owner.

Why should schools have pets?

It is therefore understandable as to why so many educational settings are embracing and inviting pets into school to improve well-being and address mental health issues amongst their students. "Every school should have a dog or another pet to reduce stress in the classroom," says Sir Anthony Seldon. The University of Buckingham vice-chancellor said it is "a powerfully cost-effective way of helping children feel more secure at school".

Sir Anthony was speaking at a conference about the need to improve young people's sense of well-being. And when you pause and think about the benefits below, will we see more schools investing time and money in this area?

Cognitive – companionship with a dog stimulates memory, problem-solving and game-playing.

Social – a dog provides a positive mutual topic for discussion, encourages responsibility, well-being and focused interaction with others.

Emotional – a school dog improves self-esteem, acceptance from others and lifts mood, often provoking laughter and fun. Dogs can also teach compassion and respect for other living things as well as relieving anxiety.

Physical – interaction with a furry friend reduces blood pressure, provides tactile stimulation, assists with pain management, gives motivation to move, walk and stimulates the senses.

Environmental – a dog in a school increases the sense of a family environment, with all of the above benefits continuing long after the school day is over.

Reading – reading to dogs has been proven to help children develop literacy skills and build confidence, through both the calming effect the dog’s presence has on children as well as the fact that a dog will listen to children read without being judgemental or critical. This comforting environment helps to nurture children’s enthusiasm for reading and provides them with the confidence to read aloud.

Damian Hinds, The Education Secretary has also called for more attention to be paid to ways of building up children's well-being, such as teaching emotional resilience and a sense of character. He also stated that it was no longer possible for schools to focus solely on academic achievement without thinking about the emotional well-being of pupils. This is something Gemma and I became so passionate about as class based teachers which ultimately spurred us to create and develop Grow Your Mindset.

So meet Charley, a miniature daschund who underwent her training as a therapy dog in the summer of 2019. I bumped into Charley whilst delivering our Mindset Motivation programme to the Year 6 children at St Charles RC Primary School, Swinton, and what a welcome I got!

St Charles' is a school that is developing a school community where Mental Health, well-being and mindset are valued to encourage the children to be the best version of themselves. So whilst they are embracing the positive benefits of a therapy dog, they are also working with other organisations (including us!) to create a holistic approach. We can't wait to continue our journey with them once schools get back to some normality.

If your school has a therapy dog, or any pet maybe fish, chickens, tortoise or even alpaca's? We'd love to hear about your experiences and the benefits you have noticed around your school community. Also, if you want to inform your children about pet awareness there are some great resources through Pet Education.

In the meantime keep connecting with your pets, appreciate their benefits and where possible allow others to benefit from their wonderful characteristics too whilst social distancing!

Liz x

If you love a good read, why don't you check out our other blogs about mindsets.

Or if you would like to know more about Grow Your Mindset click here.

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