Dogs help kids learn to love reading
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BY ALLISON SMITH
Caber lies quietly next to her human companion, content to relax by her side and listen intently as she reads.
It doesn’t matter that Caber, a two-year-old Harlequin Great Dane, has four legs instead of two, and requires the occasional treat or appreciative head rub to keep her attention. The rapport between her and Marissa Mongelluzzo is there.
Caber and many other dogs got to listen to children like Marissa read to them for about an hour Saturday afternoon at the Thorold Public Library, thanks to Therapy Tails Niagara and its Tell Tails Reading Program. The organization is a non-profit charity that sends a dedicated team of volunteers and their dogs to listen to people read at senior care facilities, schools, libraries, special needs facilities and other places.
Children who are self conscious about reading in front of people find the dogs are “non-judgmental listeners,” said Bev Carew, program co-ordinator at the library. “It’s just another creative way to get them to read, to get them away from the computers and (help them) build relationships with the dogs and their owners. It also gives them a chance to practice proper behaviour with animals,” she said, adding some children who have never had pets before learn how to approach and interact with the dogs.
The program is popular in Thorold – on average, at least 15 children and their parents drop in to participate in the sessions, said Carew.
Marissa and Adam Mongelluzzo drop in to the program to read to the dogs occasionally.
“It’s fun because it’s easier to read to dogs than humans. They don’t interrupt, unless they bark because they have to go to the bathroom,” said eight-year-old Marissa.
She and her brother said coming to the library to read to the dogs is a special treat, since they don’t have one at home.
Linzi Tardif and Caber enjoy coming to take part in the sessions as well. As a French Immersion teacher at Lakeview Public School in Grimsby, she sees the benefits the program has for young students in terms of encouraging them to get comfortable with reading, she said.
Arianna McLean serves on Therapy Tails Niagara’s board of directors. Carew was one of the first early believers in the program and played a critical role in its adoption across the Niagara region and getting other libraries on board, said McLean.
These days, Therapy Tails Niagara continues to increase its programs. In addition to the Tell Tails Reading Program, there is also a Senior Care/Special Needs program (for which the trained teams visit senior care and adult living facilities) and Special Needs Visitation (which partners therapy teams with autistic children, Alzheimer patients, mentally challenged individuals, stroke victims and others).
Prior to beginning to visit people, each dog is put through a series of temperament tests that determines whether they respond well to loud noises, other dogs and people.
As word of mouth gets around the community, demand spikes, said McLean. The organization’s current challenge is that “we have too many people that want us (to visit their facility) and not enough teams to go around.”
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