Dog who helps children with their reading is hoping to win big at Crufts

Millie Johnston, Kieran Slaney and Jack Towndrow with Connie
Millie Johnston, Kieran Slaney and Jack Towndrow with Connie
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A Misterton woman whose dog helps children with their reading is hoping it can win a top prize of its own at this year’s Crufts.

Valerie Jarvis, 54, works as a senior teaching assistant at a school for students with learning difficulties in South Yorkshire.

Her dog Connie, a seven-year-old Irish setter, accompanies her to school, and acts as a reading dog.

Connie’s gentle demeanour means pupils who have problems reading out loud find the confidence to recite to her.

Valerie admitted staff at her school, the Aegir Specialist Academy in Gainsborough, were taken aback when she first suggested the idea.

Valerie said: “A lot of our students struggle to relate to other people. What Connie does by listening to them read, it takes away any part of them being self-conscious if they get the words wrong.

“Some of them won’t read aloud, some of them won’t even talk aloud, but by reading to Connie, because Connie doesn’t know if it’s right or wrong what they’re saying, it builds up their confidence in speaking aloud.

“I must admit, when I first suggested to the school they all fell about laughing, but they’re not laughing now because we’ve seen some really good results.”

Connie is nominated in the breed veteran bitch class at Crufts 2017, which will be held at the NEC in Birmingham from March 9, to 12.

Valerie has been going to the world’s largest dog show since the early 1980s, first as a spectator, and entering dogs herself from 1984.

She is hoping that Connie will get special recognition this time around, after entering her into the show three years ago.

She said: “I’ve won classes before, but I’ve never got as far as the groups. There are 300-odd Irish setters there, and the quality is really good, so if any of my reds get placed, I’ll be really pleased.”