We recently had a bark-tastic visit from some very sweet book and kid loving dogs. These particular dogs and their people were representing the Intermountain Therapy Animals’ Reading Assistance Eduction Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program who recently won our Readers’ Choice Literacy Grant.
While Gina, a gorgeous black lab and Abbie, a very friendly golden retriever stole the show, we also had the pleasure of learning more about R.E.A.D. from their people, Melissa Saul and Merilee Kelley.
For instance, R.E.A.D. teams consist of an appropriately tempered dog and their owner (there are 2,500 teams around the world). The dogs and their people go through rigorous screening and training programs before working with children. According to Melissa, the training is more for the people than the dogs. That would certainly be true of me – my English setter/spaniel/who-knows-what-else dog, Carmen, would get it right away while I was still on square one.
One of the most touching stories Melissa and Merilee told was of Joshua, an autistic boy whose mother brought him to the library once a month. Joshua had difficulty connecting with other people and expressing emotion to them – as just one example, his crying baby sibling brought no response. But he connected with the golden retriever he read with, even expressing emotion to the dog. Then back at home he started expressing concern when the baby was crying.
R.E.A.D. teams work mainly in schools and libraries, coordinating their efforts with a reading specialists, teachers or librarians. In schools, children who need extra attention to reading are selected for the program and are stars because they get to read to the dogs. When a child graduates from the program, they get to escort a new student into the program and ‘teach them the ropes’. Testing before and after participation in the program has consistently shown dramatic results in children’s reading level.
It was great to learn all about what R.E.A.D. is accomplishing and of course to shake paws and share some books with Gina and Abbie!