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(Updated 24/4/01)

Teaching with animals

'It is amazing how focused the students are on their work, due to the involvement of the animals ...' –
Carolann Miller, Programme Manager of the multi skills course, Highbury College, Portsmouth

However, it is not so amazing to Sue Okery and David Lindsay, who run Mobile Petz (established by Sue in the early 1980s). They see the same story repeated again and again with all age groups and abilities, as they take the animals round allowing hands on experience to interested groups, schools, colleges etc.

Mobile Petz was originally set up to provide dogs for pet therapy; this was before the idea of using trained pet animals to provide companionship to those who were parted from their own pets (often when they became too ill) became better established.
Members of the team hard at work...

Says David Lindsay, “We have developed using the range of animals - invertebrates (e.g. cockroaches, spiders), amphibians, lizards and snakes small mammals (e.g. rabbits, rats) dogs and owls - into more specialised areas e.g. long-term mental conditions, and those with physical difficulties.

“We are qualified to each and assess so have developed both formal (National Curriculum/Key skills etc) and informal teaching using the animals to demonstrate specific areas e.g. adaptations to environment and also as an aid to learning. The presence of animals has proved to have a calming effect that works well with some specific groups, enabling teaching to take place. Using the animals as a "reward" also improves work. We work with pre-school children through to college and mature student level.”

...and taking a well-earned rest!

David added, “Due to the increasing interest in pets generally from the public (and all the TV programmes) we are also asked to provide short courses e.g. in pet care, pet first aid, and set up educational exhibitions at schools, fetes etc. this means that the animals have to be trained to a high degree.”

As teachers and animal carers (both Sue and David have worked professionally with animals for over 20 years) health and safety is a major consideration.

David continued, “Even in areas around Bournemouth we find that children are having limited if any contact with dogs.

Sue, lizard and dog. The lizards are useful in some of the more specialised therapy work, where even a cuddly Keeshond can be a bit active to some people, the laid back lizards allow contact with a living animal. Even the lizard and snakes have to go through a process of selection to ensure that they are content being used for this work, although there is less actual desensitisation training with a cockroach compared with a dog!

“How frequently we are finding that children have been taught that all dogs are dangerous and dirty. I have even heard a schoolchild asking why our dogs were allowed into school, the response from a teacher: ‘It is ok, they are special clean dogs.’ In any session involving animals, handwashing is emphasised, using anti-bacterial hand gels at least once during any session which, rather than re-enforcing the notion of ‘dirty animals’, actually adds to the whole experience. We try to give a balanced view.”

Kerry the Duck Toller (pictured above, proudly sporting a rosette!)
is a great teaching animal for the more advanced students
as they can see the full range of tail wagging ‘happy’ dog
but also see the underlying body language of uncertainty,
due to her negligible socialisation - this is her third home.
For other students she is great at agility and demonstrating training techniques