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Innovative new council service enlists man’s best friend to support residents

The borough’s residents will be supported to increase their independence and improve their wellbeing with the help of a canine companion, as part of an innovative new service launched by the council.

Bracknell Forest Council has partnered with charity Dogs for Good to launch a community dog service to support people with a learning disability, autism or dementia to reduce anxiety in social situations and improve their wellbeing and confidence in everyday life skills.

Community dog Lexi will be working with residents alongside her handler and a social care professional from Monday 12 November. The team will work with individuals on a tailored support plan, helping them to achieve goals which will improve their independence and wellbeing, such as learning to cross a road independently, attending medical appointments or reducing anxiety.

The partnership is the first of its kind in the UK and will support both children and adults with a range of needs, such as those with physical disabilities, sensory needs or mental health conditions, as well as supporting people with a learning disability, autism or dementia.

The launch is part of the council’s transformation of its adult and children’s social care services and follows a successful pilot in 2017, which saw participants achieve new levels of independence following a programme of intervention sessions with a Dogs for Good community dog.

By the end of the trial, the wellbeing of participants had improved due to being able to independently carry out tasks they were previously unable to. As a result, the council was able to adjust some participants’ support packages to reflect their new level of independence.

The success of the pilot was highlighted at Crufts in March 2018 when the mother and sister of one participant took centre stage in the arena to explain how the intervention sessions had improved the participant's wellbeing and quality of life.

Cllr Dale Birch, executive member for adult services, health and housing, said:

“The council’s transformation programme aims to put residents’ needs at the heart of the services we provide, ensuring they’re able get the best out of life and live as independently as possible.

“This partnership will enable us to help more people achieve this, using the amazing power of the human-dog bond to teach new or adapted behaviours, improve confidence and overall wellbeing. The results from the pilot were impressive, transforming the lives of the participants by enabling them to carry out everyday tasks independently. I am looking forward to hearing about the difference the service makes to the lives of more people in the borough.”

Peter Gorbing, chief executive of Dogs for Good, said:

“Dogs can be great motivators and role models, supporting adults and children to learn and develop in so many ways. We are delighted to launch our first local authority partnership which will use animal assisted intervention as part of a tailored programme to improve the lives of people with health and social care needs.”

To find out more about the council’s community dog service and its partnership with Dogs for Good, please visit our community dog webpage.