By Barbara Read
For young kids, one of the big challenges in learning to read is the embarrassment of making mistakes.
Twice a month Therapaws of Michigan sends two dogs, Max and Raven, to Bates Elementary School in Dexter to read with kids as part of its R.E.A.D. program.
The program is used to boost reading confidence. The dogs and their owners, Holly Young and Joan Baublis, have been through screening, evaluation and training to make sure they are ready to go to school in pet therapy teams.
Therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs, whose job it is to support a person with disabilities and need to remain focused on that task. Therapy dogs are trained to interact in a positive way with all people around them and their job is to bring comfort and joy to the people they visit.
“We don’t correct the kids. I often tell them that if they need a little help we’re there for them, but the kids are supposed to be really comfortable,” said Young. “If they have a pet at home, we often suggest to them that they can spend a little extra time as home reading to their own pets. Some kids are more shy and dogs are so understanding and patient that it’s a good fit for reluctant readers.”
Any child at the school may read with the dogs regardless of reading level. A parent volunteer takes the children in pairs to a quiet room where the dogs and trainers are waiting.
The children meet the dogs and are allowed to pet them and get acquainted. Then the students sit on the floor with one of the dogs and read aloud from a book of their choice. The quiet, unhurried pace is a change from the bustle of school, and children are able to practice their reading skills in a very encouraging atmosphere.
Therapaws teams have also visited Cornerstone and Wylie Elementary Schools. Beyond the R.E.A.D. program, the group works with hospice, hospitals, extended care and assisted living facilities, rehabilitation and psychiatric centers.
“Just recently we started going to the Eastern Michigan University dorms and University of Michigan libraries during finals. The students can come see us and de-stress for a few minutes,” said Young. “You just see the look of joy on their faces when they see us."
Therapaws is a non-profit organization based in Dexter, and all teams are registered with Therapy Dogs, Inc. Dog owners in the area who have an interest in community service and a “well-mannered pet of sound temperament and good health” may contact Therapaws to attend an orientation session.
Detailed information can be found on the Therapaws website, http://www.therapaws.org/Volunteer/index.php.
For more information, visit http://www.therapaws.org/.