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Pets As Therapy dog Arlo proves perfect listener to schoolchildren in New Forest through Read2Dogs

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HE is a lovable Labrador who gets paid in belly rubs and cuddles for the very special role he carries out with schoolchildren across the New Forest.

As a Pets As Therapy dog, Arlo takes part in the Read2Dogs scheme where he goes into schools spending time with children who may have special needs, autism or have some other reason why they need his help.

Rachael Soanes with Arlo
Rachael Soanes with Arlo

The two-year-old Lab spends up to an hour at a time at one of three schools listening as four pupils spend 15 minutes each reading to him for a five-week period.

Owner Rachael Soanes, from Holbury, said: “The effect he has is quite amazing. When one little boy was brought in to us the teacher said we would struggle to get a word out of him as he did not like speaking to anyone.

“After 15 minutes with Arlo I could barely get him to stop! The interaction between him and Arlo was just lovely and got him really chatting.

“Another little girl of about five came in in tears after something had happened to her during the lunchtime.

“She didn’t even read to Arlo but just spent her time talking to him and cuddling him. When she left she was giggling and laughing. She just skipped happily off at the end of the session.”

Rachael decided to put Arlo up as a therapy pet after seeing the effect he had on her own family.

She said: “We got him as a puppy during lockdown. I have two sons, aged seven and five, who were really struggling with lockdown and home schooling.

“They could be quite full-on – but Arlo had a real calming influence on the boys.

“He is such a loveable dog with a really caring personality. I thought he would be perfect for the role.”

The Read2Dogs Scheme has been available in the UK nationally since 2011.

It was introduced after researchers discovered how naturally comfortable children can be in the presence of dogs.

Parents and teachers can use this special relationship to enhance literacy skills and encourage reading in a relaxed environment with the pet and child sitting together.

It is used for pupils who find reading difficult or stressful. At present around 6,000 children across the country are benefitting from the Read2Dog scheme each week.

The voluntary role starts with Rachael donning her uniform and giving Arlo his favourite treat of cheese.

Rachael said: “He knows we are off to work when he gets his piece of cheese.

“During the day, the children give him more cheese treats, so he really loves going to visit the schools.

“All the children love him – he gets lots of cuddles and belly rubs.

“I also enjoy our sessions because you can really see the children improving. Our role is not to criticise – we are just there to listen, so they really gain in confidence.

“It’s a job we both love.”

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