Meet the newest recruit to a forward-thinking Ellesmere Port school – an adorable Labrador puppy named Gus.
The exciting four-legged addition to the Woodlands Primary School family was introduced to promote the health and wellbeing of students and staff.
Innovative headmistress Victoria Carr also believes Gus has the potential to aid children’s learning, inspire them to become socially aware, and even promote healthy eating.
Over time, it is hoped that Gus can be trained as a therapy dog, but if that proves to be impossible, he will remain the school’s companion.
Gus gets to know Dr. Carr is living together – which underscores both her commitment to Woodlands and the life-improving role of a dog in an educational setting – and is currently familiarizing herself with his new neighborhood on Eddisbury Road.
She and members of the school management team are now trained dog handlers and will eventually introduce Gus to the children as soon as he feels comfortable. Parental consent is for those who are happy to have students around him.
This was the reaction to Gus’ arrival as documented through his dedicated social media accounts. Dr. Carr has been contacted by hundreds of schools for advice as they are interested in having a dog of their own.
How did the idea come about?
Dr. Carr told The Standard, “I spoke to our wonderful senior clerk Sue Moss who has a dog and she told me that she was thinking of training her Cockapoo to be a nursing home therapy dog.
“I said I thought about it for school and the idea was born. The governors, led by Reverend Jackie Bellfield, advocated it and it went from there.
Woodlands Primary School’s new dog, Gus.
“We were thinking about adding a dog, but we wanted a puppy that we could train from the ground up. I got my teenage daughter researching breeds and seeing what other schools have done – she was a big one Help.
“When the governors approved the project, I spoke to three different breeders. I didn’t care about gender or skin color – I just wanted the dog’s temperament and personality to be right.
“In the end we found Gus and drove all the way to Darlington for him! Nobody could have predicted how calm he would be – he’s fantastic.
“It’s a massive commitment. Everyone spent the hours training. But it feels so good to have them, it’s certainly not a chore.
“Hopefully Gus can become a therapy dog, but it’s a bit like a guide dog – we don’t know how he’ll react to the training yet, especially not for a few years.
“Whatever happens, he will always be a companion dog.”
Gus may not have been introduced to the kids who are currently catching a glimpse of the newcomer through their classroom window and walking past the children’s gate at the director’s office door, but its positive impact is already being felt.
Dr. Carr explained: “After the last Covid lockdown, many children were afraid of going back to school. With that in mind, and because we knew we were going to have a dog, we got them involved in a project.
“It made a huge difference. They came up with designs for a tableware and even chose its name. They refer to it as ‘Gorgeous Gus’.
“There is a lot of evidence to suggest the positive effects a dog can have. They lower blood pressure and anxiety. When a dog is calm, it helps a child regulate their body when they are feeling anxious.
Woodlands Primary School’s new dog, Gus.
“Gus will also help teach our children to be good citizens by looking after and caring for an animal. For example, hopefully it will prevent them from throwing trash because they know he can pick something up.
“It’s about taking care of the environment. Gus relies on raw food and explains the importance of healthy eating and good nutrition by explaining the benefits.
“But you have to remember that this is about the animal too. If Gus needs downtime or space, there’s a bed under my desk and another in the office.”
Dr. Carr took the helm of Woodlands two and a half years ago at a time when the school was struggling and in financial difficulty.
Since then, the school has rectified the deficit and has also invested in new and inclusive facilities.
Back in February, the school had a successful “surveillance” inspection of Ofsted which found that “managers and officials are taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances”.
Dr. Carr said, “You were overwhelmed. We have an exceptional team here. I’ve been training for 25 years and that feels like the best job I’ve ever had. I love it.
“Part of the agreement to get Gus was that I would take care of him, so I was forced to stay ten more years!”