How it began
The story of Guide Dogs at Mosslands began in July 2011, but the seed was planted earlier that year on 29th March. I accompanied my friend Edith Sargent to a Guide Dog presentation at Thornton Hall and was so impressed with what I heard, that I did enquire then about puppy walking but, with working full-time, this sadly was not an option open to me.
Towards the end of the academic year, we were told that the pastoral system in school would be changing again in September, from five Year Offices back to three House Offices. It was also decided that each House, (Faraday, Grenfell and Ruskin) would nominate a charity to support.
The week beginning 11th July, Mandy Morgan (Head of House for Faraday) and I discussed various options for our charity and when I suggested Guide Dogs, Mandy was very keen. When I suggested that maybe we could take supporting the charity one step further and actually bring a puppy into school with myself as the Puppy Walker, Mandy thought it was a wonderful idea! We decided, although not with much confidence I must admit, to see if this was possible.
Firstly, at home, I had to ask for Mark’s support. We already shared our home with my elderly dog, my two cats (Mark is not a cat lover!), as well as Mark’s 14 year old son Sam, who spends a lot of time with us. When informed of our proposal Mark’s reaction was “I will give you my support because you don’t stand a chance of getting this off the ground!” At least I had his support.
We then approached the Headmaster, Mark Rodaway, and explained our idea. He could not have been more supportive. He quickly pointed out that as Guide Dogs started out in Wallasey; it was very apt that this new initiative takes place in a Wallasey school. Another good omen was that Faraday had been given the biggest office; it was on the ground floor, opposite doors to the yard.
I then approached Guide Dogs and spoke to Sallie Timms (North West Puppy Walking Supervisor) outlining our proposal. Sallie’s response was promising and after consultation with her Manager and Supervisor, I was given permission to try and put together an acceptable proposition, which would be closely monitored by Sallie on behalf of the Guide Dog Association.
What followed was a blur. I needed to complete all my paperwork for the Guide Dog Association. I had to do a risk assessment for, and obtain permission from, the council. I wrote a letter to the Director of Education containing an outline of our proposal. We created and sent a letter informing all parents of our intentions and asking for any concerns to be forwarded to us. The office had to be fully equipped for the puppy and an exercise area had to be sorted out. We designed and put up notices around the school and very importantly, liaised with Sallie from Guide Dogs all along the way. The Guide Dog Association offered lots of support, advice and practical help. We knew we had to move quickly, Sallie had to find a puppy for me and the puppy needed to, not only settle in at home with me, but to get used to it’s ‘second’ home, the office in school before the start of term. I have to admit to having a few panic attacks.
We only received one email from a parent. Her son was allergic to dogs but she emailed to say that she felt it would be a great loss if he was unable to take part in this
fantastic project for Faraday. He was a very sensible boy, very aware of his allergies and he had his medicine and eye drops already at the school. She could see no reason for him to have to miss out
We were extremely grateful for this wholehearted support of our project.
11th August 2011, exactly a month from when I first voiced the idea, Sallie brought Petal to me. She was a cross, Golden Retriever/yellow Labrador, born on 28th May and just over 10 weeks old. My life changed completely and going to work has never been the same since!
During Petal’s first few weeks at Mosslands she was treated, (very respectfully I must add,) like a cute exhibit at the zoo. Pupils and staff would come down to peer over the child gate in the doorway to try and catch a glimpse of the puppy. Of course she slept a lot in those first weeks and settled into the school routine amazingly quickly. I had sent emails to Form Tutors to remind the boys to ignore the puppy when she was out and about around the school; they were to come to the House Office to see her at appropriate times.
Petal took the school day completely in her stride, the loud bells, the silence during lessons erupting into very noisy, high energy movement during lesson changeovers, games being played on the yard or Astroturf, phones ringing and trains passing very close past the office windows.
The actual office would be quiet and peaceful for a time and then at registration times, break and lunchtimes we could be inundated by pupils needing report cards signed, bringing grievances to us, angry boys, sick boys, boys upset and in tears, boys needing a, sometimes very strong, talking to. Staff as well, bringing a range of emotions to the office, when coming to talk to us about certain pupils and problems they may be presenting.
We had meetings with parents, (once again bringing a range of emotions to the office) and also various professionals, social workers, police officers and representatives from other outside agencies. No day was ever the same and Petal thrived, regarding the school as an extension of her home.
Our first glimpse on how useful Petal could be in this environment was when, at the start of the year, a new year 7 boy came to the office in tears because he had lost his bag. Petal went to the boy and put her head on his knee, very quickly his tears dried up, replaced by smiles at Petals antics. (The bag was eventually found, by the way!) This was repeated time and again during her year at school, she always managed to lighten the atmosphere. When boys came to the office, tense with frustration or anger, Petal presented them with her ‘rope ragger’ and persuaded them that a quick game of tug-of-war would help them feel better, it worked every time! Staff started coming to the office just for a bit of ‘dog time’, whether to play with Petal or just to sit and stroke her, they always left feeling better.
Petal enjoyed going to meetings outside Mosslands too. She accompanied me to Social Services meetings and meetings in other schools. She was so well behaved people forgot she was there and had a surprise at the end of the meeting when she suddenly stood up. She also attended our inset training days, moving from room to room and lying quietly through each training session and all this at not even twelve months old! Petal thoroughly enjoyed being part of any gathering whatever the occasion.
Petal, by being at school, was instrumental in teaching the boys so much about Guide Dogs, and raising awareness of the charity’s work. They were interested in the history of the charity and also about raising money for the cause. Whenever we were out and about around school I was always answering questions about how they choose the dogs, how they train their dogs, what happens if they do not ‘pass’, what exactly she would be doing when she eventually left us, how and when she would became a fully qualified Guide Dog and so many more questions. I think one of the most unusual questions was “Is Petal really blind, can she see at all?” It certainly opened my eyes to the misapprehensions people can have.
Petal’s favourite events in school were assemblies, she loved an audience and enjoyed any applause, thinking it was all for her benefit but most of all she enjoyed fire drills! Once the alarm went off she could not wait to get out amongst over 1000 boys and walk with them to the assembly points. She loved the excitement but was always on her best behaviour, and the boys all loved seeing her on the yard.
The Mossland’s boys enjoyed Petal being included on school trips. She travelled very well no matter what the transport, car, train, bus or minibus. The last trip Petal was part of, was at the end of year, she came tenpin bowling. The boys put Petal’s name on the scoreboard and took turns throwing on her behalf; she finished a very respectable SECOND!
Petal even got a mention by the Ofsted Inspectors in the Official Government Report.
Ofsted Report 2012
The life of the school is greatly enriched and enlivened by Petal, a guide dog, currently being trained at the school as part of the school’s work for the charity ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind’.
Petal will be missed so much, by the pupils and staff at Mosslands, especially in the Faraday House Office. The boys played a huge part in Petal’s training; I could not have done this without their co-operation. I am very grateful to them and very proud of them.
I have been, and still am, very emotional on the subject of Petal. I miss her being my almost constant companion, her ability to change from a ‘Tasmanian devil’ having a mad half hour, to a confident, calm, and mature dog, when required. I wait every time I go to the freezer for ice; she always appeared looking for an ice cube, even if I left her asleep in another room!
However, Petal went off very happily, without a backward glance to continue her journey to become, I am convinced, an outstanding Guide Dog and a much loved and appreciated companion.