I had read the research, done the training, and enrolled Jazz the whippet and myself in a recognised pets as therapy charity. But I was still nervous about actually taking the skinny beast – nicknamed Green Bean – into my classroom. What if, as most of my equally cynical colleagues believed, the kids went nuts, the dog started barking, and little Flora’s allergies exploded into anaphylactic shock symptoms.
For the first three minutes, it seemed like my worst fears were coming true. The kids were ecstatic about seeing the dog and crowded around him, cooing and clucking over him. It looked like my lesson plan on First World War poetry was entirely out the window.
After three minutes, however, I simply said Jazz needed to rest and everyone needed to return to their places… and everyone did. Meek as mice. I began droning on as usual and the lesson went on as usual. Well, actually, not as usual. During the part of the lesson when the students were writing down what they had learned, I realised that I had never seen this group work in such a focussed, self-contained way. It was just conjecture at this point, but it seemed that the presence of el pero had created a calmer atmosphere.
After seven years of bringing Jazz (known at work as Mr Jazz) into school with me, I can vouch that the conjecture was true. A dog gently snoozing in a corner of the room makes for a calmer, more focussed class. I will leave the professional psychologists and psychotherapists to explain exactly why this happens, but I imagine it’s the same reason why we have dogs in our lives and our homes in the first place.
Over the years, Mr Jazz has helped hundreds of children and teachers. Children with worries that they can’t put into words to other humans can just sit with him and his soothing presence makes them feel heard and held. Difficult meetings between adults are that much more bearable with Jazz raising an eyebrow at our petty squabbles.
And of course, I get to go to work with my best friend.