He was the first therapy dog to work in a UK university on a full-time basis, and now the canine’s contribution at Bournemouth has been officially recognised in a new academic study.
Jack has been helping the BU’s Additional Learning Support (ALS) team which supports students with specific learning differences, physical or sensory impairments, mental health issues and medical conditions.
The six-year-old shih tzu joined the department in 2012 as part of a pilot project, in conjunction with Dorset-based voluntary group, Caring Canines.
Academics at BU have been working with both the ALS team and the charity to research the benefits of animal-assisted therapy.
Their study suggests that being in the presence of an animal such as Jack helps people focus better and concentrate on learning.
Dr Andrew Mayers, senior lecturer in psychology at BU concluded, “there is clear evidence that animal intervention shows improvement in psychological and physiological responses to stress.”
But these findings do not surprise Jack’s owner, ALS tutor Carolyn Atherton, who says Jack helped her to cope following the death of her mother.
“I’d never had a dog before, “ says Carolyn.
“Someone suggested it might help, as not only had I lost my mother, but as I had also been her carer for four years, it was the loss of a role too. Jack helped to fill the gap.”
Her fluffy, four-legged friend certainly looks at home in her office curled up in his small basket on her desk.
Carolyn explains how she decided to contact Caring Canines after reading about the charity’s work, because she felt Jack would be suitable as a therapy dog and he started working in schools as a book buddy.
“I noticed Jack had an ability to calm pupils down – they felt more confident around him. At around the same time I had a student at university who was extremely traumatised and was struggling with her studies.
“She saw some pictures of Jack in my office and asked if I could bring him in. She started making much better progress and was able to access her learning because of Jack, so I like to say that Jack started at school and now he has graduated to working at university!”
Carolyn adds: “He is a very empathetic dog – he knows immediately if someone is upset. He just goes to them. He is also extremely good with students with Aspergers’ or students who are frightened of dogs.”
Carolyn’s colleague, operations manager for ALS, TJ Thomas, admitted he had his reservations at first about having a dog at the university on a full-time basis.
He said: “I didn’t believe it and I was worried it was a gimmick – but he has become an important part of the overall work of ALS and its identity as a department.”
Jack often attends inductions days, staff conferences and meetings and was the star of a short promotional film about the work of the ALS department narrated by Chris Packham.
Carolyn adds: “It very much depends on a dog’s temperament, but is also helps that Jack is non hypo-allergenic, he doesn’t moult and is very well behaved – he is also a lot of fun too.
“He takes away any formality. He makes people smile or laugh which helps to create a good feeling.
He has also helped to raise the profile of ALS and the work that we do here.”
Jack currently sits in on around 12 one-to-one sessions a week, and students say they have already noticed the difference he makes.
One student, who did not want to be named, said that Jack’s presence helped him through mental health issues to complete his course and gain fulltime employment.
He said: “My problem was because I was having a lot of mood swings, I found it very difficult to study and to learn because sometimes I was very lethargic and sometimes I was hyper, and it was hard to concentrate and focus.
“Jack was very good at calming me down on really bad days. He was very intuitive and very relaxed and an amazing thing to look forward to.”
He added: “I went from completely crashing and not being able to do my studies, to getting a job and being about to graduate. I wouldn’t have been able to get out there and do it without Jack.”
Katie, a first year student in International Hospitality Management, agreed: “Jack really helps to create a relaxed environment and assists with learning as it doesn’t feel so intimidating.”
SUBU president Chloe Schendel-Wilson said: “Jack the therapy dog is such a unique example of how the university supports its students. The fact that it was the first of its kind to do such a thing is really impressive as well, and a testament to BU.
"Students with additional needs can get the benefit they need and it is an innovative way of doing so. It really shows how much BU care and the unique approach that it has to working with students.”
1. Jack the shih tzu who is the first therapy dog to work in a UK university full-time. He helps out in BU’s Additional Learning Support team with owner and ALS tutor Carolyn Atherton.
2. Jack with owner and ALS tutor Carolyn Atherton and TJ Thomas, operations manager for ALS.