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Angus The Dog

May 19, 2020

In August 2018 a rescue dog named Angus arrived at Gatwick Airport.

Abandoned on the streets of Cyprus, Angus had been left starving and unloved before being rescued and flown over to the UK.

Collected at the airport by Adam Dunn, a canine behaviourist and psychologist living in Tean,  Angus now has a new lease of life visiting local schools and training establishments in North Staffordshire.

Angus provides emotional support for students with attachment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism and a range of other conditions.

Adam said:  “I am often asked what special training Angus has had to fulfil his role as school dog and emotional support dog, and how he got into that line of work. It’s fair to say that Angus does indeed earn his own bone money.

“You could say that we are a natural partnership who are both sensitive to the emotional needs of others. Angus is my canine emotional regulatory partner and provides a natural ability to regulate the emotions of those he comes into contact with, and I am his human counterpart.

“Angus has the most amazing eyes which people are drawn to and one of the natural consequences of that is an increase in oxytocin levels, which make us feel all soft and warm.”

In 2018 Angus and Adam visited a local care home to provide emotional support for the residents and staff.

Adam recalled:  “This was something that we had never done before and I must admit I found my own emotions needed constant regulation.

“The joy of bringing a smile to a face was jolted by discovering that a resident we had befriended last week had sadly passed away.

“The staff that work at this home and all others are very special people who I developed a huge admiration and respect for, and we are forever thankful for being given this opportunity.”

The pair were invited to work with a learner at Landau Training and Enterprise Centre – with Adam describing this ‘beginning of Angus’s journey working with vulnerable young adults and children and one which really influenced my decision to focus our work in this area’.

Adam said:  “I am often asked if Angus is a PAT [Pets as Therapy] dog and although Angus of course does love cuddles, he is not a PAT dog. Angus provides bespoke emotional support and training for individual learners.

“Some of the key areas that Angus works in are developing social and cognitive skills, developing positive social cohesion, and developing emotional crisis intervention strategies for individual learners.

“I am a strong advocate of PAT dogs and they provide an amazing service to many vulnerable children and adults within our communities, many of the schools that I work in with Angus also have a PAT dog and this combination of PAT dog and Angus works very well.”

He added: “The Landau centre is an amazing place to visit and the staff and learners are all so positive and Angus really looks forward to his visits. Angus has made such an impact with our key learners self confidence that they have now gone onto work with two of my other dogs, a truly wonderful achievement.

“The development of the learner has been a privilege to observe and be part of and we are now looking to arrange work experience working alongside Angus and me in other schools.”

Adam said one of the key aspects of the work he and Angus did was to develop people’s self-confidence – which they did by developing people’s ability to influence others through their own behaviour.

He said:  “Sometimes the act of talking in front of others can be intimidating particularly if you have low self confidence. I often consider that to much talk can be confusing even if we share the same language so, imagine how confusing it can be for a dog.

“You don’t need to talk to influence others including your dog, vocalization is a very small part of our communication repertoire.

“I will never forget the look on one of my learners faces when by changing their own behaviour they influenced Angus to sit without saying a word.

“These moments are life changing for the individual learner and are the first step to developing their own self-confidence and esteem.”

Many of the people the pair work with have autism, PTSD or are disengaged – with Adam saying many of them found it ‘extremely challenging’ to meet new people.

He added:  “This is where Angus really does make a difference, dogs have the ability to break down social barriers and in Angus’s case he has a fantastic ability to connect with the learners.

“Meeting me on my own may not have been possible, but having Angus with me enables the learners to connect with another sentient being, to care and love without the fear of being rejected or judged.”

He added that many of the students they worked with empathised with story of how Angus was abandoned.

Adam said:  “The students that I work with understand and connect with Angus’s story and this is what makes a very special bond between them, unconditional love and the ability to begin to develop relationships with another sentient being without the risk of many of the difficulties of forming relationships with humans.

“One of the key success for Angus is his ability to work with students who have attachment disorders or are completely disengaged in the school environment.

“A continued inspiration for me is the joy and happiness of a student who was disengaged within the school environment, when he has a session with Angus.

“It’s amazing to observe how the student responds to Angus and how through bespoke exercises, engagement, confidence, happiness and joy develop.

“These are priceless moments, the first steps to help shape the students future, give them hope that they are indeed special and can achieve their own goals.”

Angus and Adam then went on to work with students at Ormiston Meridian Academy in Meir – starting on a one-to-one basis.

Adam said:  “Ormiston Meridian Academy is an amazing school and the dedication of the teachers and staff is for me always inspiring. One to one training sessions went very well with similar results to my other students. Engagement, self- confidence, self- belief, social skills and communication were all areas that we worked together with the students.

“I really enjoyed the one to one sessions and it gives the students the opportunity to develop a relationship with Angus, who would soon be supporting them in the classrooms.

“Being part of this journey is such a privilege for me and I have never felt such euphoria as I do when Angus and a student make a connection for the first time.

“One of my new students told me recently that he had never cuddled a dog before and I have to admit this made me quite sad. The student is a kind and polite young man with low self confidence and it took a lot of courage for him to say that to me.

“Watching the student cuddle Angus was a moment that for me embodies what life is all about, respecting all life, empathy, understanding, sharing and recognising and embracing our emotions.”

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