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Story Dogs – why are they important?

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Ruffy my mini labradoodle is in training to become a fully qualified Story Dog and I could not be any more proud.

Story Dogs is based on the successful American literacy program Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.). The R.E.A.D program was launched in 1999 in Utah USA, as the first comprehensive literacy program built around the appealing idea of children and young adolescents reading to dogs.

There are 2 reasons that I decided to become a volunteer for Story Dogs. The fist is that I had noticed since moving from a commercial office space to home that Ruffy had become a bored because she was not going out meeting new people and having as many new experiences as she used to in the office. I noticed that Ruffy was licking herself a lot more and had graduated to licking the furniture as well (beds, mattresses etc). So it was time to find her a new job. Also as a child I had struggled with comprehension and I remember being taken out of the class to have support. This changed my view of reading totally – I love reading and researching and resourcing, the library became a big part of my life as a child (before we had the internet).

Anyway, I researched dog charities and I found Story Dogs, let’s face it I love to learn and read and Ruffy loves children and going to new locations – what a great combination. I thought it would be a great match.

As part of the training it is necessary to visit a school in order to observe a volunteer in action. This was a huge eye opener. I thought that we would be sitting in a quiet place, assisting the kids to read, my experience was far more varied than I though it could ever be.

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We firstly met a little girl who was about 6 (let’s call her Grace), she was lovely, well mannered and very polite.  Grace was having trouble with her spelling. The volunteer (let’s call her Carmel) assisted Grace with her words, showed her the pictures and really engaged her. You could see that Grace had a great connection with Carmel and that she absolutely loved the dog (let’s call her Nell). When the session had come to an end, Grace she was allowed to brush Nell, she cuddled her, played some games and tricks and we then took her back to her class room.

Our second child (Matt) was a bit more rambunctious, grumpy and highly intelligent. He cut through the book easily. I could tell that Carmel was definitely there for another reason. I expect that things were not going well at home and that he needed a connection outside of the class room, someone that he could confide in, that he could have a relationship with and some true one on one time. It was quite sad to realise that it was not just reading that we were here to help but that we were going to assist kids with their emotional side as well.

Carmel told me that for some kids that we meet we will be the only consistent adults in their lives. That is so sad, but true. Matt loved to play with the dog and he was terrific with Nell doing tricks and the he was brushing her. Matt had a great heart, he was just struggling emotionally with something.

Our final child (let’s call him Toby) was not to be found in his classroom, we asked around and finally we found him in the Reflections Room. This was a room where kids were placed when they needed to reflect on their behaviour and have a bit of time away from the classroom in order to learn to make better decisions.

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Toby was about 7 and he was obviously a bit upset. Toby would not make any eye contact and was not willing to co-operate. He was obviously angry about something. However how can you stay angry when Nell places her paws on your knees and licks you? This is exactly what Nell did and Matt’s demeanour changed immediately. Even though his head was still pointed downwards, I could see a tiny sneaky smile – I do not think that we were supposed to see it.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to remove Toby from the Reflection Room however he now knew that at the start of the new school term he would be able to spend some time with Carmel and Nell. It seemed that the promise of spending time with them positively shifted his mood.

What an eye opening day!

If you would like to donate to Story Dogs or if you and your dog would like to be involved then please give me a call – 0405 540 646.

– Tracie

”Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire” – William Butler Yeats

Story Dogs is the spark to light the fire!

Golden’s Story

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