Therapy Dogs do so much more….
Reprint by Rebecca Delaney
A few days a week, Roo goes to the local elementary school, curls up in his spot at the back of the library and listens patiently as children read to him. “Go, Dog. Go!” by P.D. Eastman is his favorite, but he’s not picky — as long as he gets a treat afterward, he’s happy.
Roo is a reading education assistance dog (R.E.A.D). Along with his handler, Tina Anderson, Roo works as a literacy mentor in the Graytown Elementary School in Graytown, Ohio.
The 6-year-old short hair collie has been certified as a therapy dog for visits to nursing home residents and hospital patients. But today he works primarily as a reading assistance dog.
“I have always loved reading, and this just seemed like a good way to combine my love of reading and my love of animals,” Anderson told AOL News.
The Intermountain Therapy Animals organization started the R.E.A.D. program in 1999. The group trains therapy animals to visit and help hospital patients and nursing home residents. Research has shown that pets help lower blood pressure and anxiety.
“Someone had the idea that dogs have been successful in having a calming effect on adults. Why not use them with children who have reading and social disabilities?” said Lesley Pulsipher, national R.E.A.D. coordinator in Salt Lake City. “Animals are not judgmental, and children feel safe reading to them. In a classroom, a child’s classmates may laugh if they mess up.”
Teachers at Graytown Elementary pick those children who have trouble reading, have a learning disability — or are just shy and intimidated by reading in front of the class — to visit with Roo.
“That’s the great thing about this program,” said Anderson. “It’s not just for kids who have learning disabilities. It’s also for the child who’s a little shy. It really can be applied to every reader.”
After Roo lies down in his special spot in the library, the child picks out a book to read to him. Usually, Anderson said, the children either cuddle next to Roo or they sit in front of him and read to him as a teacher would read to a class. If a student is anxious, Anderson has the child pet the dog’s ear or scratch his back to help the student relax.
If the children comes across a word they don’t know, Anderson helps them sound it out, and at the end of the story, they talk about the book. Anderson then shows the student how to command Roo with one of the 30 signs he knows in American Sign Language. They may command him to shake or lie down, and then they give him a treat.
“It’s a special connection that makes them feel important,” said Anderson.
Every reading assistance dog must first be certified as a therapy dog, which entails training and a screening process for both the dog and handler. According to Pulsipher, the program is not just limited to dogs — cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and miniature horses also visit schools and libraries for children to read to them.
At Graytown Elementary, Anderson says she sees Roo’s impact on the children.
“The program really helps brings kids out of their shell and gives them a boost of self-confidence,” she said.
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