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Pet therapy introduced to help college learners

A college in the South Wales valleys has introduced a pet therapy initiative as a new way to help re-engage learners who might otherwise be at risk of leaving education.

The scheme will see Coleg y Cymoedd working with Time to Change Wales, as part of the first national campaign to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems. The aim of the scheme is to support learners who might potentially be at risk of becoming disengaged with education, training opportunities and future employment.

Pet therapy sessions will become an extension of the college’s existing pastoral care provision. The sessions will see Time to Change Wales volunteer, Alexandra Osborne, attend the college’s Nantgarw, Aberdare, Rhondda and Ystrad Mynach campuses on a monthly basis with her dog therapist, Dora.

Osborne, who also works as an information officer for Newport-based charity, MIND, said: “I find the scheme really rewarding. I know first-hand what it’s like to suffer with issues with mental health and also know just how beneficial therapy dogs can be.

“My dogs have helped me immensely over the years with my own mental health, so I wanted to help others in the same position. Dogs have an amazingly calming effect – just stroking a dog can bring your blood pressure down. It’s amazing to see how the visits are helping the learners. If it means someone stays in college because of Dora, it’s definitely worth it.”

The half hour sessions at the college allow the learners to sit with the dog, cuddle her and relax. For learners who feel stressed or suffer with anxiety, just half an hour with Dora helps to calm them and make them feel much better.

Coleg y Cymoedd principal, Karen Phillips, said: “Our mission is to ensure that every learner has the opportunity to access the very best education to enable them to be successful and progress to university, work or an apprenticeship. Providing the highest level of pastoral care for all learners is a key part of this.

“This includes excellent academic support through an extensive personal tutorial programme, mentoring programmes, educational visits and guest speakers. But, of equal importance is the wellbeing of our learners and the work of our expert learner support teams, who look after the physical and emotional health of learners.

“The introduction of pet therapy on campus is just the latest step we are taking to support our learners to ensure they are able to succeed in accessing the education, training and employment opportunities available to them here.”

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