Although our season might have gone to the dogs, Easter brings back upbeat memories for one very successful Charlton team at a time when long walks are on the horizon once again.

Around 10 years ago a chance opportunity to meet the Upbeats at Sparrows Lane changed the direction of the outreach work that one Charlton Athletic supporter was doing with his pet dogs.  Ray Bates had previously been taking his German Shepherds to dog shows before finding a higher purpose for them. After seeing the interaction between his dog named Bailey and the Upbeats, he realised that they could do such good work in the community with other groups in need of support.

Ray himself had benefitted from the therapy of being close to such majestic animals so now wanted to share that experience with others, starting off with local schools. After relocating from London to Kent, the pack of German Shepherds grew from two to five, with three of these making the grade as Therapy Dogs. They got their first major chance to put their skills into practice at Easter time nine years ago when invited to a Q & A session at a local school.

Following on from the success of this, Ray's team of German Shepherds were invited to become official Reading Dogs for the school. This was an opportunity that they accepted gratefully, helping youngsters with not just their reading skills but also their confidence levels around dogs. This Easter sees them enter their 9th year with the same school and owner Ray says that  "there’s something a bit special when a child conquers their inability to read purely because they do want to spend time with the dogs."

Through this work, Charlton's most famous four legged team are also helping children with autism and other learning difficulties. Before lockdown, during the school holidays, they also visited care homes to comfort patients with dementia. Recently too, through contacts on social media, they have helped someone overcome the suicide of a family member.

Because people might sometimes associate this breed as being mainly used as guard dogs, Ray's team are doing a huge amount of good for their own reputation and as another string to the bow of Charlton Athletic's presence in the community. This is because they're Charlton through and through.

Bowyer, the youngest of the dogs is a prime example of this, so-named in a Twitter poll by Charlton fans. He grew up during lockdown and during this time Ray took to the platform to show his training and his antics as a puppy. Through that, they started getting messages of thanks from people struggling with the lockdown. Others stated they’d always been fearful of the breed but felt they would like to meet them and some went on to do so.

Ray's message to the CAFC family is that "the support our dogs get from Charlton fans is fantastic and for that we’d like send our love and thanks." And to show how real-life is just as important as football (s0me of the time), Ray points out that "we even get support from that rough lot up the road."

Bowyer and company though wish to categorically bark that they have no intention of moving to The Den any time soon. Indeed, amongst his most recent assignments, Bowyer was helping to address the fox problem at The Valley. According to Ray, "wandering through the stands leaving his scent helped persuade the foxes the pitch is not the place to be."

This Bowyer then is definitely still taking the lead in sorting out things on the pitch, following in the footsteps of his namesake and others such as Chris Paw-ell. Ten years have passed for Ray working in this area and he says that he "wouldn’t change any of it because spending time with the dogs helped me through my own mental health issues."  He also adds that "anyone is welcome to come down and meet them" and expresses "huge thanks to the guys at CACT for the inspiration to do this" for which "we are forever in your debt."

Below: Two teams of great value to their communities -

Left: The Upbeats with therapy dogs                                     Right: Ray and his team in action