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Police officer David Gutiérrez introduces Bobby to schoolchildren at El Albero. L. Cádiz
Mijas force signs up Bobby, the first police dog in Spain to help children to read
Education

Mijas force signs up Bobby, the first police dog in Spain to help children to read

The Local Police will begin a dog therapy programme in March for schoolchildren under-10 with special educational needs

Lorena Cádiz

Mijas

Friday, 23 February 2024

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Three years ago, Bobby the beagle arrived at police officer David Gutiérrez's home. His owner is one of the officers attached to a special tutoring programme working with schools in Mijas. He saw Bobby's potential to work with children almost immediately. "Beagles are not the easiest breed to train, but with perseverance it can be done," said Gutiérrez.

After a lengthy training period, Bobby has managed to become the first municipal police dog in Spain dedicated to working with special needs children and trained to help improve children's reading skills.

Public service

"In Spain some dogs already fulfil such duties, but with charitable bodies, in many cases in conjunction with psychologists, speech therapists or teachers. We are the first Local Police force in the entire country to be introducing this service," said Gutiérrez. As a public service it will be completely free of charge to local children who meet the criteria.

Mijas Local Police force is once again leading the way. It did so previously when it set up the programme whose "main objective is child protection through prevention in education", said Ángel Blanc, one of the officers in the scheme in Mijas with the municipal police.

The programme initially focused on preventing absenteeism, bullying or drug use among minors. Then it forged ties with provincial branches of local mental health charity Afesol.

Police dog Bobby with his owner.
Police dog Bobby with his owner. SUR

Pilot scheme

Police dog Bobby now fits snugly into this jigsaw. From March until June he will take part in a pilot scheme for children with special educational needs at El Albero school in Mijas. If everything goes well, the scheme will roll out to other infant and primary schools across the municipality. Although Bobby is trained to help improve children's reading skills, in this programme "we set individual objectives with each child, aimed mainly at building up their self-esteem and, in many cases, improving their social skills".

Somehow, the dog's presence, within touching distance, motivates the children. Bobby helps them overcome the tasks set by their police tutor in each of the sessions where he joins in.

Through Bobby the adults get closer to a child with problems. Blanc gives an example from just a few weeks ago where an absentee child "with anxiety due to a bad experience at school" returned to class simply because Bobby would be there.

Rigorous test

To do such vital work, Bobby had to travel to Madrid and pass two key tests: firstly, to enter a park where there are squirrels and stay calm; then to spend time with children in a hospital. "To be a dog that motivates others it has to know how to behave because a child on the autism spectrum might pick him up and pull at his ears. He must know how to handle any rough play and be a sociable dog," said Blanc.

"The school was planning to finance some therapy using dogs, talks were under way and we'd been quoted 90 euros for one hour. Now, the money that the school was going to spend can be used for other things," said María del Campo Pozo, headteacher at El Albero school.

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