When teacher Sandra McHugh started at South New Brighton School about 20 years ago, some children were “terrified” of dogs.
She recalls one of her past pupils continuously crossing from one side of the road to the other whenever a dog appeared on the footpath.
“One time a dog came along on that side and the girl ran to me. I am not very tall, and she tried to get up on my head because she was so terrified of the dog,” Mrs McHugh said.
That was when Mrs McHugh, who also is a dog trainer and handler, decided to take dogs to the school in a bid to help children overcome their fears.
“We had other children like that and we thought why live your life like that when we have beautiful dogs at home – lovely, calm, well-trained dogs,” she said.
Before long Mrs McHugh, along with dog obedience judge Janis Kirk established the school’s canine educator programme.
Dogs were required to pass a test before they could become a canine educator.
The test includes ensuring the animal does not growl, is calm, able to walk on a lead, is good with other dogs and can take in a noisy classroom situation.
Mrs McHugh said the dogs create a calm atmosphere and it is now rare to find a child at the school who is frightened of dogs.
“It teaches them to care for an animal and to care for somebody else other than themselves and just to be kind and careful with creatures,” she said.
The school currently has six canine educators with four new pets recently joining its programme.