Lending A Paw

Why would anyone want to read to a dog? In 2000, a study was done at the Bennion Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Utah, to examine the benefits of providing a dog-assisted reading program. The study consisted of ten children ranging in age from 5 to 9 years old who were reading below their grade level. Each student read once a week for 20 minutes with a dog. At the end of the 13-month study, each child’s reading score increased by at least two levels, according to Nationalgeographicnews.com.

Shortly after completing a manuscript that was designed to be read specifically to a dog, I discovered–to my great surprise–these special reading programs across the country where children read to dogs. Presently, there are hundreds of schools and libraries nationwide that participate in these programs with such names as:

· Reading Fur Fun

· Barks & Books

· Sit, Stay, Read!

· Reading to Rover

· Paws to Read

Canine Camaraderie

Although the intention of my book was to value the dog by giving it something it could better understand and appreciate, the intention of the schools and libraries involved in the reading program was to improve the literacy skills of children. Since I volunteer at Camp Med, a licensed day-care program sponsored by the City of South Pasadena, Calif., I proposed a special activity for the kids where they read to a dog. The event that transpired was very sweet.

A friend brought his gentle Yellow Lab, Sophie. In a sunny park setting, the children (ages 5-11) came out in groups of three and sat together on a blanket. The vignettes were short, so each child had an opportunity to read one to the dog. When they were not reading, they could pet and interact with Sophie.

What was interesting to watch was that each group of children was distinctly different. Some were earnest in their approach, some laughed the entire time. Some were strong readers, some less assured. Some kids were highly comfortable with Sophie while others had never touched a dog. The great thing about such an event was that it met the child at whatever stage of development and life.

In my six years at Camp Med, I witnessed some of the biggest smiles that day. It was as if the communion between the kids and the animal allowed the children to relax more, and they found a solid, happy place within.

The Benefits

As I reflected on these programs, I wanted to learn more about literacy in the United States. Low literacy limits life’s opportunities, but what struck me most about this problem is that it is solvable. A person can improve his or her reading skills by one grade level with 35 to 45 hours of tutoring.

Among the benefits of the dog-reading program for children are:

A connection with an animal

A new way of seeing

An appreciation of reading

An encouragement to read aloud

A listener that does not judge them

Physical affection.

It’s great for the dog as well: each receives a boost to self-esteem, contact with children, love and attention and the joy of service. When Sophie returned home, the owners reported that she seemed so happy and proud.

Creating Your Own Event

If you want to create an event or program, there is a wide variety of volunteer groups that participate in reading dog programs. To find a local group, check on the internet or with your local dog clubs, veterinarians, dog trainers and groomers, schools or libraries for leads. You can also contact national groups, such as Therapy Dogs International, Therapy Dogs Incorporated and The Delta Society to discover local possibilities.

Lony Ruhmann is a career counselor from South Pasadena, Calif., with an MBA from the University of Michigan. He also works as a ticket manager for the Olympics. He can be reached at lruhmann@socal.rr.com.

——————-Sidebar——————————–

The Squirrel

I hear an intruder,

Bark, bark, bark.

My job is to find the intruder.

Where are you?

Ha, ha, I see you!

Bark, bark, bark.

Got to get closer.

Good, you are close now.

My job is to get you.

Do you hear me?

Bark, bark, bark.

You run,

Or I will eat you.

Not A Bath!

It’s a bath, got to run.

Where can I hide?

Where can I be safe?

I do not want to hear my name.

Nobody say my name.

“Juve, bath time.”

Got to think fast.

I’ll hide behind his big chair

And be real quiet.

“Juve, I see you, come on let’s go.”

’ll pretend I did not hear that.

They are getting closer.

This is not good.

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