Case Study: Abbie and Spike

Abbie, aged 7, from Brighlingsea Junior School, has benefited from the help of Pets As Therapy dog, Spike. Spike belongs to the school's headteacher, Claire Claydon, who is a Pets As Therapy volunteer.

When Abbie Cavill was 7 years old she was diagnosed with 'brain cavernomas'. Cavernomas are clusters of abnormal blood vessels which can sometimes be found in the brain, brainstem or spinal cord and Abbie required an operation as part of her treatment.

Coming to terms with this condition and experiencing the operation led Abbie to become a withdrawn and angry little girl. She began to withdraw from school and he parents began to have great difficulty in getting Abbie in to school each day. When Abbie did attend school she was very reluctant to engage with staff and it was rare to hear her voice in the classroom. The school put in a package of support to strengthen the relationship with Abbie and help her deal with her emotions. Part of the support package was to join Spike's Read 2 Dogs group. Abbie responded really positively to this and very soon Abbie and Spike formed a strong bond. In class Abbie would not readily read to her teacher but she showed no such hesitation in reading aloud to Spike.

Abbie is now reguarly attending school, and now tells us she enjoys school and looks forward to coming in. She can still have blip days, as she continues to suffer headaches and other side effects of her medical condition, but the mention of Spike's next visit is sometimes enough to bring her back on track. Abbie is confident in talking to adults in school and will now regularly initiate conversations with staff and pupils. Her confidence in reading aloud has also noticeably increased.

I recently asked Abbie if she enjoyed reading to Spike. She replied "I like reading to Spike because he is interested". I asked how she knew Spike was interested in what she was reading and she replied "because he comes and sits next to me and the way he looks at me". Abbie thinks other schools should have dogs like Spike visit to listen to children reading because "(reading to the dog) will help them get better at reading and that might mean they go up a reading group". Abbie would also like to tell everyone that "Spike is cool!".

Abbie's mum, Paula Cavill,  reports that Abbie often speaks about Spike at home. In the early days that really helped the family to have positive conversations with Abbie about school, and in turn that made it easier to get Abbie in to school on the difficult mornings. Abbie's parents are so pleased that Abbie is happy at school now.

Mrs Claydon, Headteacher at Brightlingsea Junior School and Spike's owner, believes that the bond that formed between Abbie and Pets As Therapy dog Spike, during the Read 2 Dogs sessions, was a big factor in transforming Abbie into someone who loves school and enjoys reading and chatting with teachers.

Spike plans to continue working with Abbie during the current school year.


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