Service and therapy dogs are in demand these days. They address a lot of humanitarian issues affecting a wide variety of folks and demographics. On the service side they assist with a number of physical and mental impairments, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PSTD] with the military, to the blind and hearing impaired.
Therapy dogs, on the other hand are canine trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with mental disorders, such as anxiety disorder or autism.
Indeed, therapy dogs are definitely part of today’s zeitgeist — but, the list doesn't stop there.
In my recent blog ‘Therapy Dogs Add ‘Tutoring Children’ To Their Resumes,’ of recent date educators and organizations associated with learning in schools have realized that therapy dogs can now also ‘sub’ as reading tutors.
These programs have gone nationwide, and two of special note are found in a town I call home.
Beaufort, Home to Reading Programs
In the historic waterfront burgh of Beaufort, South Carolina — with a rapidly-growing population of 12,361 [as of the 2010 census] — there are many reasons why Southern Living recently named this historic community, the “Best Small Southern Town.”
Home to the late long-time resident and author Pat Conroy, in addition to be a popular movie location for some classic flicks, like The Big Chill, The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, GI Jane and Forrest Gump — Beaufort is a waterfront enclave filled with rich history dating back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
To that illustrious list of distinguishing features, Beaufort is also home to some very innovative reading programs for the town’s youth. Both the Alliance of Therapy Dogs ARF! Program and Tailwaggin’ Tutors are initiatives beneficial for children who need an assist in elevating their reading acumen.
“These 2nd and 3rd grade weekly programs are individual based, where students read to dogs on a one-to-one basis in classrooms for approximately one hour,” said the chapter president, Russ Dimke.
Last year the program had therapy dog teams at Beaufort Elementary, Coosaw, Riverview and Port Royal. When asked about the upcoming 2017-18 school year, Dimke noted: “until school starts and teachers decide on their needs, we don’t have the schedule of schools just yet."
Additionally, there are once-weekly after-school programs at the YMCA, where pet owners and 3 to 5 dogs, collaborate on the tutoring process. Tailwaggin’ Tutors have been conducting sessions at the Y on Wednesdays 4-5pm, for the last 9 years.
Schools/teachers who are interested in having a Tailwaggin Tutor team in their classroom need to contact 'visit coordinator' Sandy Dimke at Sandydimke@gmail.com. Pet owners who are not already TDI members are required to pass a therapy dog test (given twice a year in Beaufort - fall and spring). This examination is an approval process for folks to become certified and insured by Therapy Dogs International.
Alliance of Therapy Dogs ARF! Program
The ARF! (Animals make Reading Fun!) program is designed to assist students improve their reading skills as well. It’s been proven that when a student sits with a therapy dog and reads a book appropriate to his reading level, their learning curve is accelerated. According to ‘Pack Leader’ Rebecca W. Bass, “there are 3 primary benefits of her program: 1) students find reading more fun with the dogs and improve their competency, 2) they form bonds with the dogs, and 3) they learn how a trained dog can add to their lives.”
The ARF! program is conducted for second and third graders at the YMCA, Beaufort Elementary, St. Helena Elementary, Robert Smalls International Academy, Broad River Elementary, the Boys and Girls Club, Penn Center and the Lowcountry Montessori School.
To become a therapy dog, Bass delineates the following 3 requisite factors: "1) A dog that is obedience-trained, 2) A dog that is friendly and calm when meeting new people and other dogs in unfamiliar environments, and 3) A handler who is outgoing and friendly when meeting new people."
Interested principals may contact Bass at email@example.com for more information about the program and to learn how to initiate this program at their school. Dog owners seeking to join Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national organization headquartered in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with over 50 teams in Beaufort, should consult the website: www.therapydogs.com and then contact Rebecca W Bass.
Non-Judgmental Attitude is a boost to Learning
As many of us know growing up with dogs, coupled with receiving non-conditional love, man’s best friend is a very nonjudgmental creature. Their calming presence distills stressful situations for folks of all ages, but especially for the young.
For adolescent children who feel insecure about their ability to learn or grasp basic fundamentals such as reading, therapy dogs bolster their self-confidence. They allow children to focus on the animal versus themselves. It’s a therapeutic distraction technique that relieves children of building up too much self reflection and doubt, reducing anxiety levels measurably.
So hats off to folks like Russ and Sandy Dimke and Rebecca W. Bass for not only administering these important and innovative programs, but also to improve upon them year after year.