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North roll-out for SSPCA Animal Guardian project

By Alan Beresford

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A PIONEERING programme which works with young people who have shown behaviours towards animals that are a cause of concern is now available across the north-east.

The SSPCA's Animal Guardians programme is now available in the north-east.
The SSPCA's Animal Guardians programme is now available in the north-east.

The Scottish SPCA’s pioneering one-to-one Animal Guardians programme is offering face-to-face sessions.

The innovative initiative was previously available to 70 per cent of the country but now has the resources to be delivered across most of Scotland. The programme continued despite lockdown restrictions but the one-to-one programme was adapted to online meetings with virtual get-togethers, tours and e-learning.

Children can harm animals for a variety of reasons and often this has more to do with not knowing what they are doing is harmful, or having trouble regulating their emotions and behaviour, rather than from an intent to cause harm.

Animal Guardians sits under the society’s umbrella education offering, Animal Wise, which teaches young people about animal welfare and sentience and offers help and advice on future career pathways. Animal Wise is available in communities and to adults as well as the younger generation.

Since it launched back in 2018 with generous support from the RS Macdonald Charitable Trust, Animal Guardians has had over 180 referrals.

One of those referred in the Aberdeen area was a nine-year-old girl who was showing inconsiderate behaviours towards the family dog and this was making the dog fearful of the girl. In some cases, animals can react negatively when afraid so the girl could have been at risk of being harmed by the stressed out animal.

The Scottish SPCA worked with the girl to show her how her behaviour was impacting her pet. She learned that if she was gentle and caring when around the dog, then it would want to spent more time with her. Building this relationship alleviated any feelings of stress in the dog and they were both more content.

Gilly Mendes Ferreira, head of education, policy and research, said: “Animal Guardians teaches young people how their behaviour has an impact on animals and to see animals as sentient beings who can feel pain, stress and fear.

“Each child and situation is different so the programme is adapted to engage that individual. Relatable scenarios may be used to teach young people to appreciate an animal’s emotions or how to recognise signals of when an animal is showing signs of being scared or wanting to be left alone.

“We have an incredible team who are fully trained in tackling worrying behaviours towards animals and how to stop that progressing in to later life.

“Throughout the Animal Guardians programme we encourage children to think about and recognise both human and animal emotions. They spend time playing games which focus on what animals need and ultimately how they can be responsible towards the animals they encounter at home, on the street or out in the countryside.

“Ultimately we want to nurture their empathetic and compassionate behaviour towards animals and in turn, people. The University of Edinburgh has been evaluating this programme to ensure we are having a meaningful impact and we have run ‘stay connected events’ in the school holidays to allow us to stay in touch with those who have been part of the Animal Guardians journey.

“Young people can be referred to Animal Guardians by parents or carers, teachers, Police Scotland, social workers, NHS Scotland or many other professionals including from organisations that specialise in working with children and young people. Many people don’t always recognise that when a child shows behaviour towards an animal that is a cause of concern it can also act as an early indicator that something else may be wrong in that child or young person’s life and specialist support may be required.

"We need particular professionals who work with and support young people to recognise these signs, have knowledge of the Animal Guardians programme and get in touch with us for support.

“The programme is completely free. To find out more about our Animal Guardians programme download our flyer and referral booklet at https://www.scottishspca.org/animal-guardians

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