Doggone good listeners

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Amanda Crane/Press-Tribune | Fourth graders Kamiya Mason (right) and Anae'ja Boldon (left) take turns reading to Delilah, a seven-year-old poodle and certified therapy dog. Also pictured is Delilah's owner, Patti Hunsicker.
Amanda Crane/Press-Tribune | Fourth graders Kamiya Mason (right)  and Anae'ja Boldon (left) take turns reading to Delilah, a seven-year-old poodle and certified therapy dog. Also pictured is Delilah's owner, Patti Hunsicker.
Amanda Crane/Press-Tribune | Fourth graders Kamiya Mason (right) and Anae’ja Boldon (left) take turns reading to Delilah, a seven-year-old poodle and certified therapy dog. Also pictured is Delilah’s owner, Patti Hunsicker.

Therapy dogs put young readers at ease

Delilah the poodle was all ears as fourth graders Kamiya Mason and Anae’ja Boldon read aloud to her in the school library.

They read books about a big red dog who wanted to stay cool in the summertime, one about a hungry caterpillar and one about a little girl who loves the color pink. There was even a book about a cat, but Delilah, a seven-year-old certified therapy dog, didn’t mind listening to that either.

Students at Meadowview Elementary School excitedly welcomed a group of four-legged friends to their Crafty Minds summer camp. The free week-long program included several fun activities and crafts, a trip to the parish library and special visits from guest readers and listeners.

The dogs are part of a local therapy dog group that visits nursing homes, hospitals and schools. The purpose of their visit to Meadowview Thursday morning was to help the children improve reading and communication skills in a relaxed, comfortable and nonjudgmental environment.

Reading Education Assistance Dogs (or R.E.A.D.) are trained with the appropriate skills and temperament to be good listeners and have safe interactions with the students. Their presence alone creates a less intimidating environment for students so they can overcome any fears they may have.

“It’s fun to read to dogs. They listen and don’t care if you get something wrong,” fifth grader Hannah Sasser said while reading to Henley, a Tibetan terrier. “I haven’t read to a dog before, but I’m glad they brought them.”

Anae’ja agreed: “[Delilah] is a really good dog. She’s calm, likes to be loved on and she listened very well. I’d read to her again.”
Librarian Becky Halbrook said she was amazed by how well the students interacted with the animals.

“There were a few that were apprehensive about it, but you wouldn’t know who they are,” she said looking over the group. “They became comfortable with them because of how calm they are.

Not only are therapy dogs good listeners, but they allow children to proceed at their own pace and are less intimidating than their peers. Ultimately, the students build self-confidence and better social skills in a very fun way.

“I want this to encourage them to keep reading,” Halbrook added. “It’s ok if they make mistakes. That’s how we learn and grow.”
The purpose of the Crafty Minds camp, Halbrook said, is to get the students ready and excited about coming back to school next month.