Golden retriever on a big wooden log in the woods

Willow Goes to School

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Assistance Dog in Training - read the next installment as Willow goes to school
Training had been going well, Willow sees Waitrose as her ‘second home’ and she has her emergency stop, plus various other commands down to a T, I couldn’t have been prouder until our walk in Richmond Park one Saturday with Bea, Ted and Monty and the wild bunny rabbit…
To be fair to Willow, she was doing her usual of foraging about amongst all our games and parkour jumping when she stumbled across a large fern with a bunny sitting in it. At first, I thought she had picked up a hat (Ted has a grey bunny hat) but when I realised it was still on his head, I nearly passed out! It was a real-life bunny that had clearly been injured as it wasn’t running away and although Willow was being very gentle, the man with the Staffordshire bull terrier screaming at his dog to not get involved because his dog would ‘rip it to shreds’ made the whole situation a million times worse.
Luckily Willow put it down, then picked it up again trying to give it to us, I had to explain to Monty (who was crying at this point) that the bunny had fainted (I think it might have had a heart attack) and Willow was just trying to help. I immediately called Kirsten Dillon to tell her, fearing that all my training for Willow had gone out the window and she would turn into some sort of blood thirsty terror, that this was all perfectly normal and Willow was picking up and putting down the rabbit exactly as retrievers do. We went back the next day as Monty insisted on checking it had recovered and of course it was gone somewhere…hopping back to it’s den.
So, with that out the way, I was praying that our trip to Ted’s special needs school would go somewhat better. To give you an idea of the environment, most children are either in wheelchairs or some form of walking aid and there is a lot of equipment about, food pumps, oxygen masks, hoists etc. It’s incredibly loud and very unpredictable. Some children will run at you with no sense of space and others will suddenly scream the most ear splitting sound and so, really anything can happen.
I went armed with lots of treats and her assistance jacket. Of course, she was over the moon to be actually going in the school rather than sitting at the gates waiting for Ted and was very excited.
We got taken straight to the hall where the entire junior department was having assembly and giving out awards. There was pop music blaring, singing/screaming and was basically mayhem. I could barely breathe, but trying to be a pro, I held it together for Willow’s sake. She was of course amazing. I think she thought, where an earth have you brought me, but then she just zoned it out and focused on the beef jerky. It’s as if she just understands that all these kids are different, they aren’t a threat, and I am cool with it.
We then went into Ted’s class and even a few grabs of her nose by a rogue 7 year old trying to escape into the garden didn’t phase her. I could see after an hour she had enough and so we said our goodbyes and would be back next Friday (we are going to go weekly if all goes well).
I wasn’t sure how the school thought she had done but apparently they are using Willow as a ‘trial’ in training assistance dog and if all goes well, they have two more that would like to come in to the school and do the same.
As I left the headmistress said Willow was a star, they couldn’t believe how calm she was. Apparently, the police dogs that came in a few weeks ago for their training couldn’t handle the chaos...
Well done Willow!
By Abigail Hutton-Tufano