WITH the name Burt Reynolds, this fluffy Shih-Tzu was never destined to be an ordinary dog.
But the filmstar’s namesake has proved a truly remarkable hit with his own niche audience – of special needs children
He has taught autistic children to speak, helped agoraphobic youngsters venture outdoors, and even communicates in SIGN language to take commands from the deaf.
But Burt Reynolds’ fairytale rise to doggy fame sadly has a twist in the tail.
Last month the loveable, two-year-old pooch mysteriously went missing during a walk in Manor Fields with his owner, Bletchley trainer Claire-Louise Nixon.
And despite hours spent scouring the streets, hundreds spent on newspaper adverts, and even a hefty £1,000 reward, there has been no trace of him ever since.
Burt’s family is convinced he has been taken in, or perhaps stolen, by somebody living in the area who does not realise he is such a highly trained working dog.
Today, in a last-ditch attempt to find Burt, the Citizen has launched a campaign and is urging all our readers to help.
All we want is to see the canine superstar returned, anonymously if necessary, so he can resume his duties with ‘his’ children at Northampton’s Billing Brook special needs school.
“The kids miss him terribly. They keep crying and asking when Burt is coming back,” said Claire-Louise, who spends two days a week giving the pupils Kennel Club Citizenship training with her pets.
A former star of television’s The Underdog Show, the 40-year-old mum-of-one has a tribe of nine rescue dogs, all of them special needs themselves and all named after film or TV personalities.
“Burt has a neck problem because he was attacked as a puppy. It causes his head to flop to one side sometimes. I have dogs with hip problems, major disabilities and even one with a hare lip. It makes the children feel better to see that dogs have special needs too.”
Claire-Louise’s dogs, including the “love of Burt’s life”, toy poodle Sophia Loren, are trained to help the children in different ways.
Burt, a naturally affectionate character, is so intuitive he can seek out a distressed child and climb up for a cuddle.
He is also so gentle that he has cured several children who were phobically terrified of dogs.
“Children who dare not go outside find they can go for a walk in the woods with Burt. Children who cannot speak can talk to him in sign language – he understands a dozen or so command signs,” said Claire-Louise.
“But his greatest success was with a teenage boy who could not speak. Now, thanks to Burt, he says ‘stay’, ‘come one’ and even ‘woof-woof’.
“It was a huge achievement.”
The Citizen is urging anyone who knows Burt’s whereabouts to contact Claire-Louise 07912 142603. The reward of £1,000 will be paid for information leading to his recovery.
Alternatively calls can be anonymously to the Citizen newsdesk on MK 372279. Or, on weekdays between am and 5.30, Burt himself can be delivered to our offices in Auckland Park, Mount Farm, Bletchley.
“We promise no questions will be asked,” promised Claire-Louise. “All we want is to get Burt back.”