AR-News: (NJ - US) Professor pups: Therapy dogs lend a paw to children learning to read

Snugglezzz at aol.com Snugglezzz at aol.com
Sun Aug 31 06:47:03 EDT 2003


LIFESTYLE: Professor pups 
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By: Sharlee Joy DiMenichi , Staff Writer    08/29/2003  
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Therapy dogs lend a helping paw to children learning to read. 

   Giggling at the antics of a storybook dog who suddenly learns to speak, 
7-year-old Jessica Weiss read in a clear, expressive voice while petting the 
head of T-Bear, her furry canine listener.

   Lacking the command of language that the book's star character possessed, 
T-Bear, a yellow lab, could not say whether she enjoyed the story, but she 
appeared curious as she gazed at the pictures in the book Jessica showed her. 

   The interspecies story time on the carpeted floor of a quiet room in the 
children's section of the township library on Monday was one of a new series of 
sessions which pairs children with certified therapy dogs, who act as 
non-judgmental listeners.

   While reading "Martha Speaks" by Susan Meddaugh — a book about the mishaps 
of Martha the dog, who comments brazenly on everything from bad fruitcake to 
overweight guests — Jessica occasionally stopped to sound out words syllable 
by syllable. T-Bear did not rush Jessica or try to provide the word before the 
child understood it on her own, as some human listeners would. Instead the dog 
listened, placidly resting her head on her paws.



   Listening to children read without correcting them helps them believe they 
are competent and to enjoy reading, said Virginia McKee, head of children's 
services at the library.

   Parents whose children have read to T-Bear agree.
   "Even if they make a mistake, I don't think they feel like they're messing 
up in front of the dog," said Melanie Febinger, who previously brought her 
5-year-old daughter, Madeline, to read to T-Bear.

   Madeline talked about reading to the dog all the way home and could not 
wait to tell her friends, Ms. Febinger said.

   Typically used in hospitals and nursing homes, therapy dogs help ease 
stress, reduce blood pressure, and decrease depression, according to the Web site 
of Therapy Dogs International, an organization which certifies the dogs.

   To earn international certification, dogs must pass an obedience test 
during which they demonstrate such skills as remaining calm around medical 
equipment and allowing strangers to pet them, according to the site.

   T-Bear's handler, Marquita Kaminsky, said she suggested harnessing 
T-Bear's calming qualities to reassure beginning readers because she wanted others to 
benefit. T-Bear previously worked with nursing home residents, she said.

   "I wanted to share her. She's a very sweet, gentle dog," Ms. Kaminsky said.

   Ms. McKee, a self-described dog lover, said she immediately embraced the 
idea of having T-Bear listen to children read. Ms. McKee said she had read 
about other libraries where children have benefited from reading to animals.

   "It just gives them confidence," Ms. McKee said.
   Psychological rationales aside, children think reading to creatures whose 
ears are floppier than those of the average listener is fun.

   Asked why she wanted to share one of her favorite books with a four-legged 
pal, Jessica grinned and said, " I like dogs!"

   Children of all ages may read to T-Bear. Upcoming story hours with T-Bear 
are yet to be scheduled. For information call Ms. McKee at (732) 329-4000. 

    
©PACKETONLINE News Classifieds Entertainment Business - Princeton and Central 
New Jersey 2003     
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