After Coco and I completed the therapy dog training classes and workshop with New York Therapy Animals and became a registered and insured therapy animal team, I felt that we both had the temperament to work with children—Coco loves people and especially kids. We received further training to work with children and became a Reading Education Assistance Dogs® (R.E.A.D.) team. The R.E.A.D. program trains handlers and their dogs as a team to work with children who may experience anxiety, lack of confidence, or have reading challenges.
Coco finds the time reading with the children very relaxing. He settles in next to the child and often falls asleep, sometimes on his back. One day when this happened, the child we were reading with announced, “Coco’s not listening.” I quickly responded that Coco was so engrossed in her excellent reading of the story that he was imagining the story with his eyes closed!
One of our most memorable interactions this past year was with a boy who had difficulty relating and interacting with people, although he was an excellent reader. When the teacher tried to introduce Coco and me for the first time, he wanted nothing to do with Coco. Usually Coco greets a child, is very excited to have the attention, then cuddles up to “listen” to the story. With this boy, I placed Coco about two feet away and Coco laid down, looking quizzically at the boy the whole time he read. It was as if Coco was wondering, “Why can’t we cuddle?” When the boy came to read the following week, the boy announced that he had a phobia of dogs, so again we allowed the boy to sit where he wanted, which was about an arm’s length away from Coco. Coco must have remembered that the boy did not want to cuddle, because he didn’t try to “say hi” like he does with the other children. The boy began reading, and about one minute into the story, he stretched his hand over to quickly touch Coco’s hip. Coco didn’t react; he just kept listening to the story. About thirty seconds later the boy jumped up, moved around to Coco’s head, and began gently petting and caressing him, all the while reading. Coco’s patience really paid off!
The school where we volunteer is in our neighborhood, and when I pull out the R.E.A.D. blanket we always take with us, Coco knows we are headed there. At the corner he makes the turn to the school and pulls me all the way to the front door!
It’s really fun reading to dogs because when you read to dogs you’re not nervous. When you read in front of people you get nervous, but when you read in front of dogs, you don’t get nervous.
It feels nice that someone is listening to you. Reading to Coco is like reading with my best friend! I hope he is comfortable when I read to him!
New York Therapy Animals is an affiliate of Reading Education Assistance Dogs® and the R.E.A.D.® program of Intermountain Therapy Animals of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Author: Melissa Mazzeo
Melissa is the Managing Editor at Big Barker. She is best friend to Phoebe (pictured) and Finian, both rescued Chihuahua mixes.