OSWEGO, NY – Service dogs are seen regularly in schools, malls and workplaces throughout the nation.
Seeing eye dogs have assisted people for decades.
Bomb and drug sniffing canines are common.
However, dogs are involved in yet another aspect of helping and are appearing in classrooms across the country are “Reading Education Assistance Dogs.”
Recently, Lucy, a literacy therapy dog, visited with students at the Fitzhugh Park Elementary School.
Teacher Christine Haessig said, “Fitzhugh Park Principal Donna Simmons met Mary Gilbert and her dog this past summer on the bookmobile. Ms. Simmons thought it would be very motivating for our students to have the experience to reading to Lucy and it is her hope that each FPS student has this unique opportunity.”
However, initially Lucy will focus her attention on some students who just need a situation where they can read under a very special circumstance.
Lucy made quite an impression on the youngsters as well as their teacher. Sixth grader Dionna Pepper said, “I loved reading to Lucy because I love reading to my own dog at home.”
Alexis Cornelius noted, “I loved reading to Lucy. It was a nice break from our schedule and it made the day more exciting.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Ives said, “Lucy really listened to what I was reading. She responded with her eyes. When her eyes got bigger she wanted me to read more. I really enjoyed reading to Lucy. I would like to thank Miss Mary for bringing her to our classroom.”
Students seemed anxious to read. Haessig noted, “Not every student likes to read aloud. This is a unique setting and it was quite an experience for students to do this. I can say the experience was thoroughly enjoyable and well received by all of the students.”
It wasn’t just well received by the students, but Lucy seemed to enjoy the attention. A student would curl up along the wall and by their side was the English Setter. Sometimes Lucy would sit up, look at the reader while at other moments she would simply recline on the floor and it seemed like someone reading a child to sleep at night.
The “Reading Education Assistance Dogs” (READ) program improves children’s reading and communications skills by employing a power method of reading to a dog, but not just any dog.
These animals are registered therapy animals who volunteer with the owner or handler as a team going to schools, librarians and many other settings as reading companions for children. The dogs have been trained and tested for health, safety, appropriate skills and temperament.
When asked “Why dogs?” there are many answers.
Animals are ideal reading companions because they help increase relaxation and lower blood pressure, listen attentively, don’t judge, laugh or criticize, allow children to proceed at their own pace and are less intimidating than other children might be.
According to READ research participating students make enormous strides in reading and communication skills while, along the way, building self-esteem, confidence, and social skills.
Watching students at the Fitzhugh Park Elementary School take time to read to Lucy provided a warm and comforting setting, which resulted in an extremely interested reader.
There’s no doubt that when the students returned to their classroom, carrying a book marker emblazoned with “I read to Lucy today” that they were anxiously waiting the next time the opportunity was presented.
Excitement in reading is critical for youngsters and sometimes more is needed than a good book. Lucy provided an alternative reason to read and FPS students took advantage of that moment.