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School’s dog becomes the pupil whisperer

A head teacher’s pet has taken on a new role as ‘the pupil whisperer’ after extending his paw and acting as a therapist for students at a school in Bromley.

Selkie, a 4 ½ year old Labrador, has become an honorary member of the teaching staff at Bickley Park School and is now helping those who suffer with cynophobia (the fear of dogs), as well as acting as a talking therapy provider for those who need extra support in difficult times. 

For Alex, it was apparent that he needed help when he came to the school to sit for an assessment and first met Selkie.  His phobia was at its peak and a course he had previously attended to overcome this hadn’t been successful.  Over the summer, he attended five lessons at a centre that introduced dogs to those with cynophobia.  This allowed him to begin interacting with pooches on a basic level, but the greatest challenge remained – returning to school to test out Selkie the strategies he had been taught. 

Alex was very nervous on his first day back, but by day two he went to the head teacher’s office to see Selkie, and with a gulp he managed to stroke her.  Alex exclaimed that it was ‘mission accomplished’ and that he felt ‘proud of himself’.

Charlie, who is in Year 8, sadly lost his mum last year.  In the week after she passed away, Charlie arrived early at school and the first ‘person’ he would meet was Selkie.    He found her very calming and enjoyed how she treated him like a special friend.  When Charlie feels down Selkie’s always waiting in the office for him.  Charlie said: “Selkie automatically knows she’s going to get a tummy scratch from me”, and the pair have formed a very close bond.

Patrick Wenham, head teacher at Bickley Park School, said: “Dogs are often referred to as man’s best friend but for those who have a genuine fear of encountering them, life can be very difficult.

“Selkie has always been heavily involved in the school community, and having her present is proving invaluable for those who have a fear to overcome or those that just need to trust someone who won’t pass judgement.

“Research has shown that stroking animals has a positive effect on mood, and can help relax and soothe people.  Selkie is a very calm, good-natured dog who is happy to take the role of pupil therapist.  She is looking forward to helping more children in any way she can.”

Bickley Park School is an independent prep school for boys aged 2½ – 13 located in Bromley half an hour from central London. Founded in 1918 the school educates 350 boys across its pre-prep and prep sites.

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