Meet our Team - Staff


Tracey Berridge B.Sc (hons), M.Sc (CABC), M.A.P.D.T. UK
Founder and Chief Executive


I originally thought of the concept of Dogs Helping Kids (or DHK as it is fondly referred to) in the late 1980's after being both moved and inspired by a film called Skeezer, who was a very unique dog. Skeezer, based on a book of the same name, is the true story of one of America's first 'canine co-therapists' who helped emotionally disturbed and troubled children at a Children's Psychiatric Hospital in Michigan. From this first initial 'seed' Dogs Helping Kids has been my life's work and passion for over thirty years and has grown and developed into a charity that now trains carefully selected dogs to work in educational establishments all across the country to help and support both children and teenagers.

I am a qualified professional Canine Behaviour Counsellor and I have been a professional Dog Trainer for over 30 years. I have a Master's Postgraduate Degree in 'Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling' from Southampton University and I spent a further three years undertaking postgraduate academic research looking at animal abuse by children, why children are cruel to their pets, and using dogs in schools as classroom assistants.

I was the first person in the country, at that time (2000), to undertake postgraduate academic research on the effects of using dogs in the school environment. My research showed that there were tremendous benefits to children from introducing a dog into a school environment and that this in turn could reduce cruelty to animals. Dogs Helping Kids officially came into being (2002) during my research.

I am a member (00671) of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (A.P.D.T.), which only believes in kind, fair and effective dog training and has a 'no choke chain' policy. I have been a puppy specialist for over 20 years and I am an honorary member of Puppy School, Gwen Bailey's national network of qualified puppy tutors. I am a member of The Society for Companion Animal Studies (S.C.A.S.), an academic organization which promotes and funds research into the special bond between humans and animals and I am a Registered Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC).

I started my working career with dogs in 1986 by volunteering at my local RSPCA Centre where I helped look after and walk the dogs in their care. By the end of that year I had taken on my first rescue dog, Judy, a cruelty case, who was by my side for the next 16 years. This was closely followed by setting up a very successful Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Business, being the first of its kind in the Southwest (at that time). During this time I honed my behavioural skills and understanding of animal behaviour by studying the New Zealand Parma Wallaby, with a grant from the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (1991). This was followed by a 2 year (1991 - 1993) behavioural study of the Russian Baikal Seal with Demontfort University, to help enhance our knowledge of this little known seal, and look at enrichment ideas such as the addition of ice floes with fish in. My behavioural research taught me how important the individual animal is and how observational skills would be second to none with my working career with dogs.

I continued to run my love of wildlfe alongside my chosen career path with dogs by undertaking numerous environmental enrichment projects and overseeing many more, as well as helping out for many years at a Devon Wildlife Sanctuary. In 2000 I received a prestigious 'Millenium Award for Conservation' for my many years of studying (at night!) the Common Toad and how humans are sadly affecting both their habitat and their very existence, and in 2013 I received the amazing 'Newt Year Honour' from the charity Froglife in recognition of my dedicated 'Toad work'.

For over 10 years (1996 - 2007) I was the Founder and Director of 'Canine Etiquette', North Devon's first Dog Training, Behaviour and Education Centre, based at Chivenor Business Park, on the outskirts of Barnstaple. We used to run 22 dog training classes every week for dogs of all ages, sizes and breeds, and a plethora of workshops, seminars and conferences throughout the year. Following on from this I then founded 'Puppy Gurus', the South West's first ever Puppy Consultancy where our motto was that 'Every Puppy Matters'. I was very passionate about making sure that each puppy had the best start in life to prevent problems from developing in the future, and the puppy consultancy was a huge success for Devon puppies and their 'parents' for almost 10 years (2007 - 2016).

I have been a 'Canine Columnist' in the local paper for over 20 years. My first column was 'Paws for Thought', where I answered people's letters on dog training and behaviour and provided easy to understand advice. This was followed by a column on dog breeds and what living with a specific dog breed was really like! For the past 4 years and counting I have written 'Vader's Tail', the story of Vader my rescue puppy from the Blue Cross Charity in Birmingham. Vader's Tail is all about Vader's ongoing training, his daily antics, and his work for Dogs Helping Kids. This fulfills my other passion, that of writing.

I now (2016 onwards!) devote my time completely to the running of the charity, as it is has grown and flourished into a national charity, with DHK School Dogs working all across the country - something I am really proud of. In February 2019 I was thrilled to receive a 'Points of Light' Award from the Government for founding and running Dogs Helping Kids and for my outstanding contribution to the world of dog training. It was a huge honour to receive such a prestigious award from the Prime Minister. I have been incredibly lucky to have met some amazing 'doggy' people who have helped me, inspired me and encouraged me to make Dogs Helping Kids into the unique charity it is today. I am thrilled to have the support of so many people and I am really grateful too everyone who has worked with me and supported me over the past 30 years and counting!


 


Fern Ember
Puppy Life Skills Co-ordinater and Canine Behavioural Advisor


I've loved living with and training animals since I was a little girl. Our family shared our home with horses, dogs, cattle and cats and I started my training early on, with any animal in the family who would let me! Even in those days, I was aware of how important it was to work with an animal, rather than trying to force it to do what I wanted. Although I specialise in dogs, I learned a lot about how to work with animals from horses. Because of their size, I soon realised that I needed to listen to and understand them if we were going to get anywhere together. I was tiny, as a teenager, and lived with an Arab gelding who was feisty and sensitive and who needed intuitive handling. He taught me a lot about how to use my body, face and gestures to communicate, which is the basis of all the work I do with dogs.

Once I grew up, I started rescuing dogs and have never lived with fewer than 3 at a time. I specialise in multi-dog homes, after fostering for many years. I have a love of sighthounds, particularly whippets, and began my professional career working as Behaviourist for a national Whippet Rescue Charity. I was contacted by an Overseas Rescue charity for support with a Romanian rescue who was struggling to adapt to life in the UK and my passion for helping street dogs adjust to living in family homes was ignited. The skills that I learned through my work with overseas rescues led me to write my New Rescue Dog New World booklet which is now given to new adopters by RSPCA East Lincolnshire.

Behaviour work was fulfilling, but I began to realise that so many issues could be avoided if new puppy owners learned to create really strong relationships and solid foundations with their puppies. My team and I started puppy classes, which then developed into our online Puppy Programme, giving support to puppy owners nationwide (we even have some international puppies on our books!). We soon started to see that puppies on the Thinking-Dog Puppy programme who joined our classes were so much calmer and more independent learners than the other puppies in class.

This is one of the things that I loved about DHK when I came across them: the support that they give their puppies and their families in their early weeks is second to none. I was delighted when I was asked by Tracey and Gail to act as DHK's Puppy Life Skills Coordinator because it not only develops my work with puppies but enables me to return to the world of educating children, teenagers and adults. I'm so proud to be able to work with DHK to be able to help puppies and their families build firm foundations at the start of their AAI careers.

Dogs are my first love, closely followed by teaching. I taught for 20 years, specialising in Special Educational Needs and working closely with teenagers needing emotional and behavioural support. What really interested me was how the brain is affected by stress. Using quietness, calm and clear boundaries was something I had always done to calm the animals I had lived with, and I found that similar approaches worked with teenagers. I used to take one of my dogs into school and was touched by the way that she could calm and draw out some of the shut-down, withdrawn teenagers I was working with.

My interest in how dogs can help teenagers gain confidence and find their voices was born out of this work and, once I started working professionally with dogs I began looking for ways that I could develop these skills. I'm incredibly proud to be part of the DHK team and excited to be part of such a pioneering charity that puts canine welfare at the heart of everything we do.


 


David Skeels
Welfare and Regional Representative Manager


For as long back as I can remember, I have always had dogs in my life. My first memory was a big black German Shepherd Dog called Sheba and although she sadly passed away when I was only nine years old, maybe she set me on my path to working with and loving GSDs. In 1989, seeking a passion to work with police dogs and serve my country, I joined the Royal Air Force and underwent training as an RAF Police Dog Handler, working with my beloved German Sheperds. Serving both at home and abroad, I became very knowledgeable within my field and was selected to train as a specialist search dog handler. This saw me part company with my “favourite” breed and step into the world of gundogs. I didn't think it could get much better than working with full on police dogs, but now I had really found a specialisation that fitted perfectly with my passion of working with high drive, fast paced, sometimes difficult gundogs.

Over a period of 8 years, I had the pleasure of working search dogs in numerous operational theatres, locating firearms and explosives. This period also saw me gain a qualification as a kennel manager and I was also fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to run an operational police and search dog section.

After leaving the Royal Air Force in 2011, I continued to satisfy my interest in dogs and especially search dogs, conducting assessments for a private company of their explosive search dog teams. I have registered with the National Association of Security Dog Users (NASDU) as an independent assessor and continue to offer this service to the private sector.

In 2015, after working in a primary school as a learning mentor/behaviour worker for 2 years, my wife and I welcomed the lovely Isla into our family. Isla was taken on to be worked by me in some way, and she found her real calling in DHK. After conducting a huge amount of research on organisations who supported dogs in schools, DHK was without question the only option. For three years Isla worked and trained at Owlerbrook Primary School, showing the true effect that a puppy growing up in school can have, not only on the children and staff, but also on the nature and development of the dog themselves. Isla is well mannered, well ballanced and truly amazing at what she does in a school setting. Isla achieved her certification as a fully Certified DHK School Dog in 2018 and for two years we worked with a small number of children on a 1 to 1 basis.

I decided that my true desire was to teach others how to train their dog to be as well mannered and balanced as Isla, so in September 2018, I set up my own business, 'Hope Valley Hounds', offering dog walking, boarding and training. I supported my knowledge by undertaking a course with Waggawuffins Canine College, run by 2015 Kennel Club Trainer of the year, Jane Arden. For 6 months, alongside doing my own job, I completed assisgments and practical assessments and finally passed with distinction as “Qualified in the Practical application of training people and training dogs.”

Having held the role of DHK Regional Representative (of the North) since early 2019, I feel privileged to be appointed to the new role of Welfare and Regional Representive Manager in early 2020. I can now continue to support not only those working for the charity within my region, but also share my experiences with the wider community within DHK. I see my role as vital with DHK continuing to grow within the U.K. and our standards being identified as the benchmark for many other charities operating within the same arena. Our prioirities have always been and should remain the welfare of our dogs in school and through this appoach I feel we are the best placed to offer well rounded, balanced and most importantly, happy dogs to schools we work with.

It is my intention to ensure that all members of DHK feel even more supported as the charity grows, with ease of access to the most up to date training methodology and professional of trainers. Offering our members and users a blend of friendly, knowledgeable and supportive management, will continue to place DHK at the very forefront of animal assisted interventions within schools in the U.K. Every single time I pull on my DHK T shirt or put Isla into her DHK School Dog coat, I look back at the 3 years of training we have undergone with the charity and think that every single mile on the motorway and every single moment spent training has been worth it, without question.


 


Trudi Sheridan
School Dog Manager

 


Nix Barrett
Fundraising Manager


I have had cats in my life for most of my childhood. I always felt a very deep connection with them as they never judged me and they were always there for me when I needed them. Once I remember as a young teenager no longer being allowed a pet due to the flat we were living in. I was so terribly distraught by the idea that I decided to secretly keep pet snails in the shed. Animals just have so much soul and I needed to have something that understood me. I probably kept this going for a good few months until someone needed something out of the shed.... opening the door to around 100+ snails covering the floor, the walls and the ceiling, much to my upset they had to go. It was then agreed I was allowed to spend some time with the neighbour's cat as long as I had done my homework! Although cats are still my true soul mates, I do love all animals and now also have a little Border Terrier called Skip.
I currently work as a technical estimator and have been in office based customer service roles for many years now. Before that I worked as a carer which was hugely rewarding, but unfortunately I had to stop doing this for health reasons. However I've always kept that urge to want to help. So when the opportunity arose I joined the DHK Fund Raising Committee in 2017 after learning to teach Skip to surf for the DHK Paws on Boards dog surfing demonstration on Saunton Beach.

It was Skip that made me aware of DHK in the first place, got me into dog training (especially trick training!) and what started me on my journey to helping this truly amazing charity. I am thrilled to be given the opportunity of Fundraising Manager, as this way I am able to properly contribute and give back to such an amazing charity. I hope this way I am able to make a difference.


 


Becky Cooper
Admin Support


As a very shy only child I found companionship with family pets and developed a deep seated love of animals, especially of the furry variety. I would have loved to have a dog, but due our family circumstances this wasn't possible, so instead had a couple of rescue cats and a tortoise.
Not content with this, I took it upon myself at age 6 to enter a competition to win a pony, which I was going to stable in the tiny shed at the bottom of our South West London council house garden. I'm not sure what the neighbours what have thought of this and admit that I was maybe not being completely realistic, but thankfully I didn't win and have since become better at researching the welfare needs of animals!
My desire to own a dog continued, despite being bitten by a GSD when I was 8. However, I had to wait until I was an adult before fulfilling this dream.
I feel very lucky to be in a position to help support this amazing charity in my spare time, by answering their first line enquiries and as an owner of a trainee Educational Assistance Dog myself, I have insight into the training process and also the reality of training a puppy in a school setting.


 


Alice Hayward
DHK Finance and Admin Officer


I work as an Admin Assistant at a primary school in Exeter where I have Percy my cocker spaniel in training with DHK to be an Educational Assistance Dog. I love walking my lovely boys Winston and Percy and my daughter Pippa when I am not at work!

I am really looking forward to getting involved more in the charity, and I am hoping 2020 will be the year that DHK is recognised financially as the amazing charity that it is.


 


Lisa Gardner
Management Committee Officer


From as young as I can remember I have always loved dogs, particularly Labradors. I have four children, two who have a diagnosis of Autism. I became involved with Dogs Helping Kids while my husband was training his School Dog Fernie. I currently work as a Teaching Assistant and have over 10 years experience as an early years educator. I have seen first hand what a positive impact having a relationship with a dog can have. Volunteering for D.H.K. helps me to give something back to an amazing charity.


 

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©DHK Dogs Helping Kids, Registered Charity

Callanish, Eastacombe, Tawstock, Barnstaple,
North Devon, EX31 3NX