Every day's a school day for Pepper!

One of the first teaching dogs in the West Midlands

Nine-month-old Labradoodle, Pepper, works alongside her owner Miss Anna Murphy at The Oaklands Primary School in Acocks Green, Birmingham.

Miss Murphy, who is the school’s special educational needs and disabilities coordinator, came up with the idea of introducing a school dog into the classroom after seeing the success of therapy dogs in other industries, and Pepper has immediately proven popular with pupils. So far, Pepper has worked with around 70 pupils who have additional needs.

Miss Murphy explains: “I’ve always been a dog lover and after reading lots of research about therapy and school dogs, I started thinking about how a dog could benefit our pupils.  I then spoke to a couple of schools around the UK that have successfully introduced dogs into the classroom and I knew it could work well at The Oaklands.  Our CEO, Principal and senior leaders agreed it was a good idea, so I decided to go for it and found a breeder who specialises in working therapy and school dogs.  We have been working with a local dog behaviourist since Pepper was tiny, which has been hugely valuable in preparing Pepper for school life.”

“Pepper now spends three days a week in school and as she gets older this will increase.  Pupils love reading to her, because she will never judge their ability, which is fantastic for their confidence.  She’s also great at diffusing heated situations and soothing pupils if they feel upset or anxious, as she’s very intuitive and quickly recognises how people are feeling.”

Miss Murphy adds: “We’re now looking at how she can benefit the wider school and she’s recently started doing weekly visits to the class with the best attendance records.  We’ve also launched a club where pupils can come to learn about pet care as well as helping to train Pepper, which is proving extremely popular and everyone really enjoys it.

Keeping Pepper healthy

As part of White Cross Vets’ commitment to offering free care and medication to school pets, Pepper now enjoys complimentary membership of the practice’s Complete Wellness Plan, which offers a wide range of benefits including free preventative healthcare treatments and unlimited consultations.

Becky Hartley from White Cross Vets in Kings Heath, where Pepper is registered, says: “We’ve always been big advocates of pets in schools because they help pupils learn about good pet care and the responsibilities that come with owning pets.  Pepper takes this to another level as a school dog and she’s doing a fantastic job and making a real difference.  It’s great to be able to offer her the best possible treatment and regular check-ups to ensure she’s always in tip top condition.”

Miss Murphy commented: “Knowing that we have the support of White Cross Vets, certainly gives us peace of mind and it’s great that they also recognise the valuable work that she’s doing.”

Free care for all school and service pets

In addition to school pets, White Cross Vets offers free healthcare to a wide range of other working dogs including fire and search dogs.  The family-run veterinary business also offers people working for the fire service and NHS, as well as those who serve in the Police, Army, Navy and RAF, 10% off all bills, medication, food and other purchased products.