Introducing: Finn and Sugar – Dogs of the School of Law
The School of Law is lucky enough to have two dogs who accompany their owners to work in the Liberty Building every day, albeit playing very different roles.
Professor Anna Lawson has been at the School of Law since 1990, and is the current director of the University-wide interdisciplinary Centre for Disability Studies and co-ordinator of the Law School’s Disability Law Hub.
Anna has had some wonderful guide dogs over the years who have proved very popular with her colleagues and students. Anna’s previous guide dog Ufty very sadly died in June 2019.
Anna’s current guide dog is ‘Finn’ or ‘Mr. Finn’ as he is also affectionately known (he is working up to Dr. Finn), a three year old German Shepherd who has been with Anna for 10 months.
Finn playing with his frisbee.
Anna explains how she was matched with Finn and how he finds life in the School.
How did you become ‘paired’ with Finn and how does this process work?
The process is basically a human-dog match-making system, managed by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA). For the human in the equation, it begins with a visit from a member of staff from the GDBA - about your lifestyle, how much you walk, whether you travel on public transport, what type of work and home situation you have, and any preferences you have about dogs.
There is also a walk during which you are asked to hold a harness and pretend the person at the other end (the guide-dog trainer) is a dog. The idea of this is to give them a sense of what sort of pace you like to walk at, whether you are likely to pull on the harness and generally how it is likely to feel for a dog working with you. While it's impossible not to feel rather silly walking through the streets of Leeds with a person pretending to be a dog, the part I used to find most embarrassing was having to discipline the pretend-dog by flicking the harness and saying 'no' very firmly.
On the dog side, the GDBA breed all their own puppies, so records are kept on their personalities, health conditions and responses to training from an early age.
There were no dogs that matched my needs in the Yorkshire region last summer but the Yorkshire matchmaker noticed that there was a dog - who London was struggling to place - who seemed a good match for me. At this stage, the possible dog is usually brought to your home for you to meet and see whether you like each other. The fact Finn was in London made this problematic - so the match-maker and I went to London to meet him instead. We met in Kings Cross Station, where he completely ignored me (and all the other travellers stepping over and around him) because he was so attached to his trainer. Our bonding didn't start until he arrived in Leeds a month later.
What was Finn’s first visit to the Law School like?
I'd looked forward to Finn's first visit to the Law School - which happened in the third or fourth week of our training together. It was of course a strange place to him but it was a quiet day, so he was calm and did not make the speedy bee-line for my office which Ufty would have made. So it was a bitter-sweet moment, as so many are during Guide Dog training, when the great positives of working with a new dog are mixed with pangs of sadness because of no longer being with the last.
How do people in the Law School respond to him?
Everyone in the School has been incredibly supportive. I had warned people of the importance of not distracting Finn or treating him in the same way that we were all able to treat Ufty until I felt that he was sufficiently well established in his role.
I realise that must have been incredibly difficult but colleagues did as we asked. Before lockdown, Finn was settling in really well and I was beginning to feel comfortable with him becoming more sociable with his friends on the bottom corridor. We might need to go back to basics for a while when we finally get back - it's been a long time for him not to work so soon in his professional life!
Do you think Finn misses interacting with lots of people?
Most definitely - but he does have some distractions to keep him occupied in the meantime!
Finn cooling off in the hot weather
Finn was named in honour of a police dog almost killed while protecting his handler. The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill which came into force in June 2019 to protect service animals such as police dogs and horses is also known as ‘Finn’s Law’ after the police dog.
Sugar in front of the Liberty Building
Rain Xu is a postgraduate researcher at the School of Law researching on medical law, specifically informed consent to psychiatric treatment, focused on patients with depression.
Rain originally comes from China, and lived in London for two years before starting her PhD at Leeds in October 2019 with her therapy dog ‘Sugar’. We spoke to Rain about what Sugar most enjoys about Leeds and the impact he has on her life.
Tell us a little about Sugar.
Sugar is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, he is almost three years old, and I have had him since he was a puppy. He started to attend lectures and seminars with me when he was 4 months old. As my therapy dog, his role is to offer companion and emotional support. He helps me a lot to manage my mental health illness, especially in public places.
What is his favourite place in Leeds?
I think it is the Leeds Student Union because he also works as a therapy dog there. He has a Pet Therapy session every week to help students and staff relieve stress. He really enjoys being surrounded by people like a celebrity, getting lots of attention, being hugged and kissed by everyone (this is probably the most important reason I guess).
Is he missing life in the Liberty Building?
Definitely! He misses saying hi to everyone in the Liberty Building, showing all the tricks he can do in the office, and playing ball with colleagues during lunch breaks.
What does Sugar bring to your life?
Firstly, I could say to some extent, Sugar saved my life. At the time I decided to have him, I was experiencing a severe depressive episode. Sugar brings energy and happiness back to my life. With his companion and support, my somatic symptoms of depression and anxiety alleviated a lot. I also become more confident to deal with the relapse.
Secondly, Sugar brings me more chances to socialize with people. He is extremely eye-catching everywhere, on campus, on public transport, and in any academic settings. Because of having him, I have made many new friends who are really nice and helpful. This makes me feel more integrated into the life in this country.
Thirdly, Sugar brings me closer to my dream. By doing volunteer Pet Therapy work with him in universities and hospitals, we helped to cheer many people up. Although what we are doing is only a small thing – to make people smile, this is very valuable and meaningful. I am so glad we are making our little effort to improve people’s mental health wellbeing and make this world a better place.
Mental health support for students from the University