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Therapy dog helps calm angry and stressed Northfleet School for Girls pupils

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A 14-year-old Kent student, who struggled to control her anger and focus in class, has turned her life around thanks to her school’s therapy dog.

Northfleet School for Girls pupil, Comfort Dicken, has been overcoming stress with the help of Cleo, the dog mentor.

Comfort and other pupils speaking about Cleo

The Year 10 student said: “Seeing Cleo helps me work on anger and emotions so I can focus more in lessons as I wasn’t really doing my best.”

Since spending time with the brown Lab, Comfort, from Gravesend, has seen a real improvement in her school work.

She added: “It helps people that are struggling with their mental health.

“Going out with Cleo for just five or 10 minutes helps you refocus and get back to learning.

From left to right, Aimee Luck and Comfort Dicken
From left to right, Aimee Luck and Comfort Dicken

“It has done a lot for me because I wasn’t really doing the best in my lessons, I was struggling in all of them.

“But when I got introduced to Cleo my lessons completely changed.

“I now stay in most of them and I don’t get sent out anymore. It actually helped a lot.”

Cleo isn’t the only Labrador that helps with the students’ mental well-being.

Otis, who is owned by head teacher, Chris Norwood, has been lighting up students days for the last five years.

Cleo the therapy dog
Cleo the therapy dog

As the school's first furry friend, Otis has now been given free reign of the school's farm.

The Northfleet Community Farm isn't just home to Otis, but also a registered charity based at the school which teaches students and the local community about farming, agriculture, food production and the protection of the environment.

With goats, chickens, ducks, guinea pigs, rabbits, degus, snakes, a tortoise, giant African snails and lizards the site, it is also used to teach animal care and animal management to youngsters.

Students studying the courses are expected to give the animals medication, food and care.

After seeing the positive change Otis and the other animals made on the pupils, deputy head teacher, Lorraine Grinyer, got Cleo last Easter and had her trained as a therapy dog.

Otis the farm dog
Otis the farm dog

Ella-Mae Martin was another student who benefited from Cleo's charms.

She came to the school in September without any friends.

The 11-year-old said: “When I first started I was very scared to come to school because I didn’t know anyone.

“So I went out with Cleo a few times and she really helped me settle in.”

Emily Huddle, head of rural studies at the farm has noticed the benefits animals bring to students.

Emily Huddle and Paris Valentine speaking about the farm

She said: “Even on the darkest day a student can come to the lesson very down and by the time they leave the classroom they’re all smiles."

Paris Valentine is a year 13 student who studies animal management.

The 18-year-old said: “The farm is a very therapeutic environment that helps students who are struggling with school work.

“They can just come to the farm and sit with the guinea pigs or tortoise and just have a moment to themselves where they’re nice and calm.”

Headteacher, Chris Norwood, with Cleo
Headteacher, Chris Norwood, with Cleo

Part of the school's vision is for students to enjoy their journey through education.

Head, Mr Norwood added: “We have found both the farm and therapy dogs to be a vital part of supporting students with this aim, and this is certainly an area we are keen on developing.”

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