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Reading Assistance Therapy Dogs Make Learning Fun for Kids

A decent education requires strong reading abilities and, maybe, a dog. When a youngster is having difficulty learning to read, one possible remedy is a reading assistance dog.

Reading assistance dogs offer a listening ear to students who lack confidence in their reading ability or maybe too shy to read aloud in a group setting. A reading assistance dog who patiently listens can provide that extra ingredient to help students improve school grades.

Though reading assistance dogs are trained therapy dogs with certified proof that they have the skills, temperament, manners, and good health to do the job, some seem to have a natural talent for helping children relax and enjoy reading. Shandy, of the Sit Stay Read program for children, is one of those dogs. Shandy is the inspiration behind the entire program.

Reading Assistance Dog Was a Shelter Dog

Shandy had humble beginnings as a homeless pup in a shelter where MaryEllen Schneider found her in 1993. She had been a bit too much for previous owners, but MaryEllen saw more in the scruffy puppy and was committed to managing her behavior. She soon realized that puppies don’t come trained.

Getting into class saved our relationship. I learned how to manage her behavior—we bought a crate right after the first class—and things improved immediately.”

It was soon evident that Shandy loved kids and seemed to attract them. Neighborhood kids would join Ms. Schneider and Shandy for walks and even came ringing the doorbell to ask if Shandy could come out to play.

Shelter Dog Becomes Certified Therapy Dog

MaryEllen decided that Shandy could perhaps help children as a therapy dog, so they worked hard and became certified with Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy, the Delta Society, and Therapy Dogs International. Shandy and MaryEllen volunteered with children in hospitals, residential facilities, and therapeutic day schools.

Volunteering was a great way for them to work together, but as the years went by, aging joints and tired muscles made it harder and harder for Shandy to jump through hoops, crawl under chairs, and do all the things that make kids laugh. MaryEllen worried how it might affect Shandy if she ever had to stop visiting the children.

Aging Therapy Dog Inspires School Reading Program

“Luckily,” MaryEllen says, “I read about a therapy dog group in Utah that would take their dogs to libraries for kids to read to them.”

With this idea, MaryEllen started the Sit Stay Read program in low-income schools in Chicago, which has grown into a respected literacy organization with more than 30 certified reading-assistance dog teams, 100 trained volunteers, and proven results.

Shandy likes to lie quietly beside the children while they read. Sometimes she’ll put her gray head into their lap and let their voices lull her to sleep.

Shandy recently celebrated her sixteenth birthday, with bone-shaped cake and all, but still plans to bring reading assistance to more than 500 children this year. She still waits faithfully by the door every morning for MaryEllen to get ready. She still has a burst of happy energy when MaryEllen reaches for the program bag because that means they’re going to the office to see the children.

Shandy may not understand that her love for kids is helping them learn to read, but almost certainly, she senses something good happening for these little guys that she so adores. After all, how many dogs can take credit for helping hundreds of children grow up to become productive citizens of society?