The Jack Petchey Foundation is barking with delight upon welcoming ‘Waggy Tails Club’ to the Bronze Achievement Award scheme.
Waggy Tails is a weekly club in South Croydon for teenagers with special needs. It aims to improve their social and communication skills through interaction with dogs and reward their achievements. The group was established in 2006 by Sarah Prior and Carol Petley - whose own daughters suffer from autism and epilepsy.
Although the club only operates for two hours at Emmanuel Church Hall in South Croydon, it’s home to many success stories. “As more children have joined, we’ve had to develop according to their needs,” says Sarah. Waggy Tails started with an obedience class but since seen the addition of a trick room and an agility room. The club also has a vet check area which encourages the 25 or so participants to learn about body parts and overcome sensory difficulties. The dogs can also help build on literacy skills as attendees read to them.
The Jack Petchey Achievement Award scheme rewards young people and will apply to the volunteers or ‘buddies’ that are so fundamental to Waggy Tails. “The buddies came much later in our development,” says Sarah. “One of our therapists suggested introducing young people from the local community to give the attendees support and friendship. We now have about 25 buddies in our team.”
Lucy Phillips is a speech and language therapist who has worked with Waggy Tails for five years: “There are so few clubs that encourage children with special needs to befriend children from mainstream schools – let alone doing something as cool as having fun with dogs. The special schools, which a lot of the attendees go to, are not necessarily within their borough so they don’t have friends that live locally. For some of the children, I think this is the only time they get to socialise.”
Waggy Tails is vigorous in its buddy volunteer recruitment process. “The person will shadow current buddies to understand how Waggy Tails works. If they still want to join, they go through training. We try to match up buddies and children based on their skills and needs,” explains Sarah.
“I get so emotional when I talk about the buddies” says Sarah, whose daughter Danielle was one of the first to benefit from Waggy Tails. Like many others with autism, Danielle suffered with anxiety about using the toilet – until she met her buddy, Grace Thoroughgood.
The 17 year old is two years younger than Danielle but demonstrates an incredible level of maturity: “The therapists explained Danielle’s anxiety and came up with a strategy to help,” the aspiring vet says. “We used her dog Rosco and made it seem as if he wanted to investigate everything – especially the toilets. It was a game that slowly built up over weeks.”
“If Danielle went into clinical setting, therapists would struggle to get anything out of her,” says Sarah. “Here the therapists are enabled because the dogs break down boundaries. The dogs, therapists and the presence of young people from mainstream schools is what make this club different.”
“These buddies are life changing for parents like me. Danielle’s anxiety is a lot better and it makes my life easier. Grace has achieved what I couldn’t.”
Ben King is Waggy Tails’ very first Achievement Award winner. Having been a buddy for over a year and a half, he has had plenty of hands-on experience with the young people and says: “We engage one-on-one with a teenager who has with special needs for two hours a week. It can be quite tiring, especially after school, but seeing their improvement makes it completely worth it”.
Waggy Tails heavily relies on funding and donations. To contribute to this fantastic club's work please visit: https://my.give.net/waggytailsclub/Donate/GiftDetails
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