The Beastly Beasts have been Blue Cross Education dogs since 2008. We visit schools, colleges, and youth groups to give talks about looking after pets, being safe around dogs, and responsible dog ownership and the law. We also give talks on the history of Blue Cross, animals in war (especially WW1), and some seasonal talks for Easter, Bonfire night, and Christmas. All of the talks are free, though of course donations to Blue Cross are gratefully received.
The goal is to educate future pet owners and so improve the lives of their pets and the owners.
One of the fab things about being part of the Blue Cross Education team is that you are part of a team. You will have an Education Officer who will support you as much as you need, and the team at head office will help as and when needed.
There is the old adage about never working with children or animals; this gives you the opportunity to work with both and it is great fun.
You must be at least 18 years old, need to provide two character references, complete the online training course, and you will be DBS checked; Blue Cross pay for this.
You should be prepared to do a few talks in each school term.
For Your Dog
NOTE You do not need a dog to be a Blue Cross Education volunteer.
Being a Blue Cross Education dog is not for every dog and to ensure your dog is right for the role and the role is right for your dog there are a few conditions. Your dog must:
- be at least 9 months old
- have been with you for at least 6 months (this is so they know and trust you and will do the right thing in any situation)
- be healthy (visits can be quite tiring)
- be fully vaccinated, and wormed and protected against fleas (unvaccinated and homoeopathically treated dogs cannot be Blue Cross Education dogs)
- have a good temperament
What Makes a Good Blue Cross Education Dog?
- A love of life and people. The Beasts happy demeanour is obvious to all that meet them.
- Happy to approach and be approached by people.
- Be patient, quiet, and well behaved while you are giving the talk.
Some key points of the assessment are:
- The dog should be clean and well groomed. We're not talking show quality here, but the plan is to take your dog to see people and s/he should be at the very least "smart casual".
- The dog should be up for it without being "in your face". If you have drag your dog through the door perhaps s/he's not Blue Cross Education material; conversely, if you have to hang for dear life to prevent murder and mayhem perhaps they are not quite ready yet. Alert, eager to meet new people, and affectionate towards them with all four paws on the ground is perfect.
- People often like to give the dog a treat on visit and it is important that the dog does not snatch to get a treat, particularly if it is being held such that it is not accessible. The assessor will hold a treat in a fist; a sniff and a nuzzle is fine, teeth are not. When the treat is offered it should be taken in such a way that the assessor is in possession of the same number of fingers they started with.
- Not over react to a sudden noise. This is to simulate something being dropped. The test is a cake tin, tray, or similar dropped so it clatters on the floor behind (but a distance from) the dog. The dog can startle and/or be wary but must not try to bolt. You can calm your dog but it must take notice. Because have steel feeding bowls at Beast Barracks, to a hound every Beast has gone to investigate.
- Be OK with other dogs.
- Be happy with a degree of noise; this is to simulate children clapping and, as sometimes happens to us, when you walk in on some noisy games.
The assessment perhaps reads as being more onerous than it is in reality. If you have a good relationship with your dog and they are well behaved they stand a pretty good chance of coping with the assessment.
Dogs are re‐assessed every two years.
Talks vary depending on the age of the children and (of course) subject matter. In schools, sometimes talks are to classes, other times it is to the whole school. There can be a wide range of knowledge among children; we have been to schools where many of the children do not own any kind of pet and others where the children are very knowledgeable; changing the talk to suit is sometimes necessary.
From time to time, we also get asked to help children that are scared of dogs; perhaps they have had bad experiences with them. We like to do this away from the rest of the children to reduce peer pressure and how it goes is down to the child. They will have seen others stroking the dogs, so they know they are OK. But even so, they can and will be scared and it must go at their pace.
There is often the chance to represent Blue Cross at various events such the Education Show, Crufts, and elsewhere, and we have been involved with fundraising and publicity with Blue Cross at a number of events in London.
If being a Blue Cross Education volunteer sounds like it is for you and your dog, go to the Education Volunteering page on the Blue Cross website to find out more.