For Topher and Tanker's third official day on the job with Blue Gray Therapy Dogs, they volunteered as READ Dogs at John Musante Porter Memorial Library.
What are READ Dogs?
The mission of the R.E.A.D. program is to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as literacy mentors.
The Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program improves children's reading and communication skills by employing a powerful method: reading to a dog. But not just any dog. R.E.A.D. dogs are registered therapy animals who volunteer with their owner/handlers as a team, going to schools, libraries and many other settings as reading companions for children.
Today, thousands of registered R.E.A.D. teams work throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and beyond. R.E.A.D. is one of those ideas that, in the words of Bill Moyers, "pierces the mundane to arrive at the marvelous."
Intermountain Therapy Animals, a nonprofit organization, launched R.E.A.D. in 1999 as the first comprehensive literacy program built around the appealing idea of reading to dogs, and the program has been spreading rapidly and happily ever since! (http://www.therapyanimals.org/R.E.A.D.html)
Wes and I went through the Intermountain Therapy Animals R.E.A.D. Program earlier this year with Blue Gray Therapy Dogs so that Topher and Tanker could volunteer with the Paws for Reading Program.
In the Paws for Reading Program, participating children select books and read aloud to the therapy dogs. This fun, positive environment and nonjudgmental approach has proven not only effective in improving reading skills, but also demonstrates the positive impact dogs can have on children’s lives and promotes the human-animal bond. Upon completion of their reading session, each participating child receives an exclusive bookmark displaying their canine reading partner’s color photo to collect and share with friends and family members. (http://www.bluegraytherapydogs.org/?page_id=17)
Topher and Tanker have now volunteered at the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon, at Snowden (Mental Health Hospital), and as R.E.A.D. dogs. Every time we say that each thing is our absolute favorite. Today was no different. Volunteering to help children read was our favorite thing to do as Pet Partner teams. We now have three absolute favorite things to do. I guess what it boils down to is as long as we are volunteering to help others through therapy dog work, we love doing it. We don't have a favorite yet. They are all our favorites. Topher and Tanker do not seem to favor one over the other either. If there is a person to love, they will love. See why Dog is a reflection of God? No person is a favorite.
Topher and Tanker did great on their first assignment as READ Dogs. We arrived at the library at 10:30 and did not leave until after 12:00. The dogs were set up in a separate room. Dog paws led the way back to the room where we worked. There were four therapy dog teams: me and Topher, Wes and Tanker, Kim and Sparky, and another team we hadn't met before today. (I forgot their names.) Kids came into the room to read to the dogs in 15 minute increments. Some children read one book and many of them read two books. They were so excited to read to the dogs. It was very humbling to see the difference our dogs made in their lives. How many kids are excited to read on their time off from school? Put a dog in the picture and they all are.
Topher had books read to him mostly about dogs and animals. The first little girl who read to him read a book about an alligator. All the other animals wanted to friend the alligator, but the alligator was mean. He had a big snout and sharp teeth. When she read that part, I pulled a small treat from my bag without the girl knowing. Topher lifted his head quickly and perked up his ears. The little girl's eyes got big and she said, "look, Topher is scared of the alligator too!" My heart swelled with joy at that moment. My Topher, my Wiggle Worm, made that little girl's day.
Another girl, who was a little older, sat on the floor with Topher and read him a book about a bunch of different dogs who went to Bow Wow School. She wanted Topher to sit next to her while she read. She showed him all of the pictures of the dogs getting into mischief and how they learned to behave through training. At the end, she read about each dog: their breeds, their colors, their personalities, and where they came from. She asked Topher which one he was most like. I told her I thought he would pick the dog who had been adopted from the pound and was grateful for the new life he had. She learned that Topher, too, was adopted from the Humane Society who rescued him from the pound. She then told me about her dogs who had been adopted from the pound as well. She instantly bonded with Topher. Before she left, she hugged Topher and said, "I'm glad you got adopted, Topher. You are a good dog." My Topher, my Wiggle Worm, made that little girl's day.
One little girl, who couldn't have been but three years old, came in with her older sister to read to Topher. She had her own book. It was one of those books with cardboard pages and little words. The little girl was shy. When her sister finished reading her book to Topher, I asked her if she would like to read. She nodded her head without answering. She hesitantly crawled off of her mom's lap and sat next to Topher who was laying down. She put her arm over him and leaned on him. She couldn't read well, but she read each word to Topher in her own way. She didn't say a word to me. The conversation was between her and Topher only. Topher must have sensed that she was nervous because he looked up and gave her a big kiss on the face. My Topher, my Wiggle Worm, made that little girl's day.
There was one little girl who LOVED dogs! She came in and said, "My name is Myranda, but my mom spelled my name different. It's spelled with a y." I knew then that Myranda must be a special little girl. She read to Topher about Biscuit the dog. She read two Biscuit books to Topher. One was about Biscuit going for a walk and one was about Biscuit going to the big city. She layed on the floor next to Topher and held the book in front of both of them for one book and sat with him on halfway on her lap for the second. Topher lifted his head like he was reading with her. Her grandmother was there and was taking their picture because it was so cute. When she was finished reading she put the books on the floor and asked me which book I thought Topher liked better. I told her that she should ask him. I had Topher lift his head and I pointed to the books for Topher to sniff them. I hoped he would sniff the one about going for a walk first because Topher likes going for walks. He did. I then told her how much Topher enjoyed walks. She told me that she had a dog and that he followed her everywhere. She wanted to grow up and work with dogs. She enjoyed her time with Topher so much that she stayed in the library until after the children's read event so that she could visit more with him. How could I resist? We stayed for thirty extra minutes. I asked her grandmother if I could take her picture with the dogs and she called her mother to get consent. They said they would love for me to share pictures on my blog. They took pictures of their own as well. My Topher, my Wiggle Worm, made that little girl's day.
Topher, my Wiggle Worm, became a bookworm today. As he impacted the lives of children, he filled my heart with love and joy. He made my day today.
**Wes will write a blog in the morning about the children who read to Tanker.**