By Isa Jones |
PHOTO: BRADLY J. BONER / NEWS&GUIDE
Roxy was laying on her back, her belly exposed and her eyes half open. She had a faint smile and let her long legs touch 9-year-old Sebastian Hernandez. The youngster barely noticed. He was too focused on the book he was reading aloud — about a dog that decided to run away from home and become a wild dog.
“This is pretty fun,” he said after finishing the book and giving Roxy — a Sheltie/Australian shepherd mix — a vigorous belly rub.
Sebastian was at Teton Literacy Center — he’s been attending for three years now — to improve his reading and writing skills. As part of the summer sessions the center decided to work with Teton County Pet Partners and provide therapy dogs for the children to read to.
“Pet Partners has been really fantastic,” program manager Kristin Livingstone said.
The idea to have therapy dogs assist young readers came after a donation of dog-friendly books was made to the center.
“They are written for dogs to listen to, in tone and content,” Livingstone said. “Like, one of the stories is about being a wild dog or a burglar coming to the door. It gives the kids an authentic reason to use expression while reading, and pre-read the story to read it fluently while reading to the pet.”
Pet Partners was immediately on board.
“It helps kids really learn to read,” said Kelly Chadwick, administrative coordinator for Pet Partners. “When they’re reading out loud to an animal, it makes a huge difference. It lowers inhibitions and there’s no pressure — the dog is their friend.”
In another corner of the center, fifth grader Melanie Hierro was reading a book about summer camp to a snoozing Labradoodle named Tracy. Melanie said she likes reading picture books and chapter books, but she clearly likes dogs even more. As soon as the last word came out of her mouth, the book was on the ground and her hands were furiously petting Tracy.
Pet Partners brings three dogs every week during the summer sessions — four in July and two in August. The kids rotate through the dogs, each reading one or two books to the pups.
The afternoon of July 6 was the first go-round, and every kid, and dog, had a smile.
Pet Partners is part of a national organization that opened here back in the 1990s, Chadwick said. There are 42 teams of pets and their humans that provide therapy in the valley at places such as St. John’s Medical Center, MorningStar Assisted Living Center and C-Bar-V Ranch.
“We’re hoping it’s such a success that we can continue it through the school year,” Chadwick said.
Livingstone said she isn’t sure what the future of the partnership will look like, but the first day was certainly a good sign.
“The dogs aren’t judging them or correcting them,” Livingstone said. “They are sitting there and giving them love, which inspires confidence in the kids.”
Contact Isa Jones at 732-7062 or firstname.lastname@example.org.