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 practice is the first of its kind. The goal-oriented nature of interventions and the potential for resultant financial benefits 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 10 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 6 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, our 11 Community Dogs and their handlers worked with 196 people in England and Scotland. In Bracknell, we worked with 33 people. Successes include helping people to: access the community and undertake daily tasks independently; rebuild confidence to take up a work placement; access respite care; return to education. We measure impact in a public health context through changes to a person’s independence, wellbeing and skills and the financial benefits these changes bring for our partner. In year one, the people benefits have been significant and the 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 championed best practice and shared 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?

The Bracknell partnership has established a role for AAI in mainstream public health practice, bringing improvements to people’s lives, while also meeting the challenge for public health budgets to go further and help more people. Early results indicate that the service can be self-financing given the cost benefits delivered. An evidence-based approach is key to scaling up. We are testing our operating model with other partners to build this evidence base. The next step is to proactively market the 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?

Our partnership with Bracknell Forest Council creates and directly links value for individuals with benefits to the local community and society as a whole. Specifically: - We create social value for clients (and families) by helping them develop new levels of independence, wellbeing and skills. - We create financial value for our partner, enabling their budgets to go further and provide more support to more people in the local community. - We create economic value for the public purse through the longer-term benefits of our work, eg getting a school refuser back to school can have a longer-term economic value to society. - We create further social value through 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. The operating costs for each Community Dog project are met by our partner, including an appropriate contribution to the costs of training our dogs (cost: £12,000 per dog), and developing and managing the service as a whole. As we grow and achieve further scale, these central costs can be met in full, thus creating a sustainable programme. Any surplus would be invested in the longer term development of our Community Dog service/other charity services. In the interim period, we are funding the additional development costs 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 our work breaks new ground in the UK, demonstrating the value that AAI can bring to the public health agenda. Support from Purina would bring additional funding for our ongoing development work and 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

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

CLIENT CASE STUDY: Adult with learning disabilities, living with parents. Unable to access respite care due to anxiety. Risk that 1:1 accommodation and support will be required if regular respite care not possible. INTERVENTION GOAL: To settle at respite centre; reduce anxiety and challenging behaviour. Our weekly programme included: • Walking with dog (dual lead), starting in quiet areas and progressing to busier ones. • Learning to read dog’s body language to ‘support’ the dog, with skills transfer to self. • ‘Training’ dog, learning that tone and volume can be moderated, even when anxious. • ‘Taking responsibility’ for dog’s needs, to develop awareness of needs of others. • Time with dog to reduce anxiety during respite stays. OUTCOMES: • Anxiety levels significantly reduced. • More patient and considerate of others. • Improved confidence in the community. • Accessed respite care for 1 and 2 night stays. • Client able to stay living at home; additional costs avoided.

14. Mutual Benefit: Explain how your project mutually benefits the pets involved – how is the pet not only used as tool?

We select our Community Dogs for their sociable and outgoing nature. Their natural preference is to seek out social contact and interaction with people, so their role involves something they enjoy. Activities are often play-based and our dogs continue to learn new skills, which they find stimulating. Our dogs have a strong, trusting bond with their handler, who is responsible for their wellbeing and the activities that make up their working schedule. The handler selects activities the dog enjoys to meet the client’s goal, meaning that sessions are tailored to the needs of both the dog and client. We also teach clients to interact with our dogs in a way the dog enjoys. This enhances the bond between them, making it more rewarding for both. We and our partners recognise that the dog is a key member of the multi-disciplinary team supporting clients. We take special care in selecting our partners, and in the design and scheduling of activities,to ensure the dog’s needs are always met.

15. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

We believe that our programme is unique within mainstream UK public health provision. We deliver goal-oriented interventions with a specially-trained dog and handler working alongside a health/social care professional. Identifying a sustainable funding stream is key to the growth of AAI in the UK– in terms of both credibility and scale. We are founder members of Animal Assisted Intervention International and continue to learn from practitioners outside the UK, where AAI is much more advanced and, in some instances, public funds are invested in AAI provision. The potential of our service model in the public health sector rests on the ‘win-win’ nature of the outcomes delivered ie positive people benefits and future cost prevention. Naturally, our service also competes for funding with other more established forms of therapy. Achieving recognition for the benefits of AAI is therefore important. Awards such as this provide a valuable platform to talk about the efficacy and value of AAI.

16. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project.

Our Community Dog model is based on establishing partnerships with organisations supporting people with a range of disabilities and needs. We currently work with a range of local authorities, healthcare providers, schools and other specialist charities. We believe our collaboration with Bracknell Forest Council offers a blueprint for others to consider, linking as it does great people outcomes to cost benefits in public health provision. Key to bringing further scale and impact to our work is the clear presentation of these benefits and a greater understanding and wider acceptance of the value of AAI in mainstream public health provision. Building on our work in Bracknell, we are now working with other local authorities and healthcare partners on pilots to ‘prove concept’ within their organisations. To support this, we are working with sector colleagues to promote standards in AAI, which will provide a framework for high quality AAI practice for a variety of client groups and settings.

17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

Our Community Dog partnership with Bracknell Forest Council has received the following recognition: • iESE Public Sector Transformation Awards (2019) – Bronze Award in ‘Transformation in Health and Social Care’ category. • Bracknell Forest Council Staff Awards (2020) – Second place in the Team Award, recognising projects and services displaying the Council’s values and behaviours. • Selected to present our work in the Innovation Zone at the 2019 Local Government Association Conference.

18. Your Self-Elevator Pitch (OPTIONAL): Share a 1-minute video that shares a quick summary of the problem you would like to solve, how you’ve chosen to solve it, and the impact you hope to see.

19. Financial Sustainability (OPTIONAL): Please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project, include an attached document with your detailed business plan or other equivalent information. (This information will NOT be shared with your fellow contestant, it will only be visible to you and internal Prize reviewers).

We plan to grow our Community Dog programme through further partnerships, primarily with public health providers. Each partnership makes a contribution to our development and management costs. This covers a small team, including the programme lead and a proportion of time from our technical and development team colleagues. We have a small number of handlers and dogs. Some work exclusively with one partner, as in Bracknell, while others form a small central ‘pool’ and are matched to pilots and other projects. Our work is funded by our partners and also through development and research grants. This is a complex mix, as we seek to manage resources and costs alongside the natural ebb and flow of projects. Greater certainty and sustainability will come from longer-term partnerships. We estimate that we require 6-8 partnerships to cover our central costs, although shorter-term project work makes an important contribution. Determining our optimum business model is still work in progress.

Evaluation results

2 evaluations so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 50%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Does this entry have potential to GROW & demonstrate LEADERSHIP?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. Is this entry VIABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 50%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%


Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 100%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

7. FEEDBACK – Highlights

INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions or used an old model in a new way - 100%

IMPACT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 100%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: You have a thoughtful plan for growth and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

VIABIBLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You value thinking around how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 0%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: You have a clearly defined plan on how to maximize shared value across multiple sectors and stakeholders - 100%

WRITING STYLE: Your writing style is concise, descriptive, clear, and specific - 100%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK - Areas for Improvement

INNOVATION: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 0%

IMPACT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 0%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: Your plan can benefit from more thought on how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 0%

WRITING STYLE: Try to be more concise, descriptive, clear, and specific. Avoid jargon - 0%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 100%

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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