Some Black Santa heroes have 4 legs and a tail! 


The Black Santa Sit-Out has helped train Europe’s first courtroom assistance dog and changes the lives of dozens of children in Northern Ireland every day.


10 years ago Geraldine McGaughey set up Assistance Dogs NI from her own home. As an Autism Social Worker, she felt inspired after watching a TV show about assistance dogs for children with autism in Ireland, and wanted to be able to bring this incredible help to local children.

Black Santa has supported Assistance Dogs NI from small beginnings 

“I’ve always been aware of the Black Santa Sit-Out and why it was being run. It’s one of those things that you always hear about, and when you can donate you do.It’s an incredible source of support to so many different people. 


“When I was setting the charity up with no money and running it from a bedroom in my house, I applied to the campaign and we’ve not looked back. The money from the Black Santa Sit-Out was able to help us maintain and then enhance the critical services that ADNI offers across NI. We work with families all across Northern Ireland and currently have 54 dogs working in our communities, spreading the Black Santa magic all year long!”

Helping kids in court

“To train every dog, it costs about £5000 and every penny goes directly to this.After we train them, these dogs go on to work in a variety of different settings including schools to work with children who have additional needs, prisons to help with rehabilitation and counselling services and supporting adults at home. It’s so important they have the right start because the work they’re doing is really critical to the most vulnerable people. 


“One of our dogs is actually the first Courtroom Assistance dog in all of Europe. Connie was trained with money from the Black Santa Sit-Out and she now works with volunteers from the NSPCC helping children who are taking part in court hearings.


“These trials can be really unsettling for young people as well as being quite an intimidating process. Connie helps by building confidence through playing games and calling her name - the young people also learn how to project their voices so they can be more easily heard in a courtroom. Connie has been vital in supporting children through very difficult times, providing comfort and reassurance.”


This year Geraldine’s goal is to build a purpose- built centre for ADNI through donations and voluntary work alone. At the moment, the Assistance dogs are fostered while they complete their training and so during the pandemic it has not been possible for them to continue with their training. A purpose-built centre would mean that the charity could continue to work through any future disruptions. 


Support for smaller charities 

“The people of Northern Ireland are such generous people, even though we are a small population. I think that when it comes to children and animals, they are exceptionally generous and although the footfall will not be the way it normally is, those that can afford it, who haven’t been furloughed or lost their jobs, will still put their hands in their pockets for the charities..the small charities in NI that are often not seen.”

To find out more about Assistance Dogs NI, visit their website here.

Click the Play icon to watch the video