We are delighted to have had the opportunity to sponsor Fernie the Labrador, who is a certified educational assistance dog. His owner, Nik Gardner, is the Headteacher at Winford Church of England Primary School and he has been in touch to let us know what Fernie has been up to.

“Here is another update from Cosyfeet’s sponsored dog, Fernie! Well, what a year to be in a school! This year for Fernie has been both equally eventful in some ways yet also uneventful. Up until March, Fernie was working as normal in school, helping individuals with emotional support and also excitingly was assisting me in an after-school club for a small group of children learning all about dogs. The 12-week course covered a whole range of topics like how to approach dogs, how to read dog body language, how to understand the theory of positive reward-based training and how to respect and bond with dogs. We were having a great time until the threat of COVID meant that all schools were closed to most children. Although we continued offering support to children of key workers and then from June, we were able to open to a few other year groups, our very comprehensive COVID risk assessment meant that we were unable to work dogs and children together in school. As a result, Fernie either stayed at home, or came to work with me but stayed in the office away from children. I also found myself working from home more so he enjoyed being less school-dog and more home-dog. During this time he discovered new walks near our house and had a great time with our other two Labradors and the Spaniel!

Enjoying a sunny walk

Fernie the Chocolate Labrador, Willow the Black Labrador and Tango the Red Fox Labrador enjoying a sunny walk

The gorgeous Pepper

Pepper who is Nik’s puppy Cocker Spaniel

During August, we received the sad news that Dogs Helping Kids, the charity that put us on this amazing path of using dogs to assist education, was forced to close. DHK has closed its doors due to the effect of the national lockdown on fundraising, the ongoing unprecedented pandemic, and the knowledge that the charity would not be able to sustain further months without being able to raise funds. The charity had helped to train over 100 dogs using the very highest training and welfare standards. This was a huge blow to us.

However, we were able to use the summer holidays to rethink how we would still be able to use this fabulous dog in an educational setting. After much consideration, we have developed our own standards for having a canine in school, still working within the truly amazing standards for welfare and training that we have been modelled by Dogs Helping Kids for so many years.

So, onto September, much time was spent preparing for the opening of our school to all year groups. We have been operating in the ‘new normal’ way, by having very separate bubbles for everything, from learning, to lunches and playtime to collective worship. Fernie is in school with me three times a week, alternating with our younger Labrador Tango who is still in training. Our work is very limited at the moment as our risk assessment is very tight, but he is still loving coming in, lazing in his office bed and going for walks at lunchtime! We are working with just one or two children at present, but we are very much looking forward to the day that normality resumes and we can start working with greater numbers of children, small groups and the lunchtime walks with children too!

Wishing you a merry Christmas.”

Nik Gardner, Headteacher of Winford C of E Primary School

Fernie getting festive

Merry Christmas, love Fernie