Community Dog - Animal Assisted Intervention in mainstream public health provision

Improving independence, wellbeing and skills for people with a range of needs, and delivering cost benefits in public health provision.

Photo of Hayley Stimpson
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize and, based on its description, I am eligible to apply:

  • Yes, I’m eligible
  • Yes, I’m 18 years old or older

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend:

  • Additional Skype interview(s) during the week of March 16-20th 2020
  • The Purina BetterwithPets Forum in Paris, on 3-4th of June 2020

Initiative's representative name

Hayley Stimpson

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • United Kingdom

Headquarters location: city


Where are you making a difference?


Website or social media url(s)

Website: FB: @DogsForGoodUK Instagram: dogsforgood_uk Twitter: @DogsForGoodUK

Date Started

Partnership started May 2017

Focus Areas

  • Re-imagining the role of pets in society

What is your current yearly budget for the initiative? If you are an idea stage, what early budget you would need to kick-off and run operations in your first year?

  • €100k - €250k

Organisation Type

  • nonprofit/NGO: an organisation that uses its resources to achieve a purpose outside of creating profit

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

Our ‘Aha’ moment came in discussion with a local authority, Bracknell Forest Council, about how Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) may help adults with autism and learning disabilities to improve their independence, wellbeing and skills. Together we identified the potential for positive people outcomes to also bring cost benefits in public health provision. We did a pilot and demonstrated just that. This was a key moment: for the first time AAI was being funded by the organisation that would also benefit financially from the outcomes. By linking benefits and funding together, a potentially sustainable funding source was created. For our partner it brought a new approach to support their own transformation of public health service delivery.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The UK public health system is under pressure. Local authorities want to help the people they support to become more independent and improve their health and wellbeing. They also need to reduce costs. Against this context, we partnered with Bracknell Forest Council in a pilot to explore how AAI may benefit the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities, and also bring associated cost benefits in public health provision.

3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We are partnering with social care and healthcare providers to embed AAI as part of a multi-disciplinary approach to public health in our communities - in a way that brings positive outcomes for both people and the public purse. In our approach a specially-trained Community Dog and specialist handler work alongside a local public health practitioner. Together they design an engaging programme of activity with the dog to meet clear goals aligned to the person's care and support plan. Goals are wide-ranging, eg developing confidence to travel on public transport or access the community independently; social skills to interact with others; changing behaviour patterns; or overcoming a fear of medical procedures. At the heart of every programme is the bond/rapport created with the dog, which becomes the motivation for the person to engage in activities to meet their goals. Improving a person’s independence, wellbeing and skills brings benefits for the individual, their family and the local community. It can also bring public health cost savings, eg greater independence may mean less need for specialist support; improved wellbeing may mean respite/crisis care is not required.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

AAI is well-established in many parts of the world but is less advanced in the UK. We believe our collaboration with a local authority to bring AAI into mainstream public health and social care practice is the first of its kind. The goal-oriented nature of these interventions differentiates us from general visiting dog programmes, which typically take place in group settings eg care homes. We have built our Community Dog model from learning gained by working with a range of client groups and partners over the past ten years and the application of international best practice in this field. The innovation to bring specially-trained dogs into traditional public health practice was tested in a six month pilot.

5. How does your project harness the pet-human bond to help people develop important social competencies (For example: emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, resilience, inclusivity) and overcome serious societal issues (for example: violence, abuse, trauma, isolation, abandonment)?

There are two levels of human-dog bond occurring within our Community Dog work. Firstly, the relationship between the dog and handler. This lies at the heart of a safe and successful AAI programme for all parties, and is built up through an extensive programme of socialisation, training and time spent enjoying life together. Secondly, the first stage of any intervention programme is for the client to build a relationship and rapport with the dog. We take time to develop this bond, which will become the longer term motivation to engage in activities aimed at achieving the person's personal goals. Through our roots in training Assistance Dogs, we have a deep understanding of the power of the human-dog bond to make life-changing differences for people with disabilities. It was this insight that led us to explore further ways people could benefit from structured interventions with a specially-trained dog. Our Community Dog approach has been successfully applied to a range of societal challenges (eg social isolation, skills development, education and employment), bringing a fresh and natural approach to these issues, thus benefiting individuals and communities.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

In 2019, we worked with 196 people in AAI programmes in England and Scotland. In Bracknell, we worked with 33 people with a range of disabilities and needs. Examples of goals are: - To develop confidence to leave the house and undertake daily tasks independently. - To rebuild confidence to take up a work placement. - To access respite care. - To motivate a school refuser to return to education. - To develop social skills and comfort levels around dogs, to expand foster care options. Success rates have been positive. In the first year, financial benefits have far outstripped the costs. We are working to quantify the benefits in a way that will help us present the financial and economic value of our work to future partners. We have also sought to champion best practice and share learning by playing a role in the development of AAI standards in the UK and internationally.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

Through the Bracknell partnership we have established a role for AAI in mainstream public health practice, bringing improvements to people’s independence, wellbeing and skills, while also meeting the challenge to get public health budgets to go further and help more people. We aim to grow our Community Dog practice through an evidence-based approach and are currently testing our operating model with a number of further partners. The next step is the proactive marketing of our service, taking a phased approach geographically to the regions in which we operate in the UK.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

The Community Dog partnership we have established with Bracknell Forest Council is a great example of how we can create value for a range of stakeholders: - We create social value for clients by helping them to develop new levels of independence, wellbeing and skills. - We create financial value for our partner, enabling their budgets to go further and provide greater support to more people in the community. - We create economic value for the public purse through the longer-term benefits of our work (eg getting a school refuser back into school can have a longer-term economic value to society). - We create further social value through the creation of volunteer opportunities in the socialisation and early training of our dogs.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

Our early development costs were funded by a grant from a charitable trust, which was transformational, enabling us to recruit a dedicated programme lead for our AAI work. Our work with our Community Dog partners is funded by them and, once we achieve further scale, the aim is that the overall programme would become sustainable. Any surplus will be invested in the longer term development of the Community Dog programme or our other charitable services. In the interim period, we are funding our development work from our charitable resources.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The Community Dog team of 9 staff has skills and experience in: dog training/behaviour; people skills; commercial, project management and leadership skills. As we grow, we will need similar skills to deliver good outcomes for both people and dogs in a way that meets our partners’ needs and also advances AAI practice. We can draw upon the wider Dogs for Good team (77 staff & 500 volunteers), including experts in dog training; client support; fundraising, marketing & communications; and finance.

11. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize?

We believe this work breaks new ground in the UK, demonstrating the value that AAI can bring to the public health agenda. Support from Purina would give us a further, valuable platform to talk about AAI and its benefits to future partners and policymakers. To ensure the very best outcomes for both people and our dogs, it is essential that the practice of AAI is undertaken responsibly and well, with the wellbeing of both people and dogs at the forefront of all activity. Support from Purina would also be invaluable in helping us to continue to champion the adoption of standards for all organisations and people working with dogs in a range of health, education and community settings.

12. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Purina page or contact
  • Participated in previous Purina BetterwithPets Prize

Attachments (1)

Bracknell News - 25.12.19.docx

Newspaper article about how the Community Dog service is helping adults and children in Bracknell, UK.


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