I believe that every dog has a purpose. Some of them are agility superstars. Others are expressive actors. A few are so obedient they earn ribbons for their attentiveness. My girls are none of these - although we've tried our hand a couple of these activities. It's just not in their blood.
But making people feel good, that's something Seka has always excelled at. She's always been calm, sweet and curious about people in general. She's respectful of an individuals space and she's pretty much bomb-proof when it comes to sounds. It didn't take me long to realize she would be a great therapy dog and I got her certified about a year after her gotcha day.
For a couple of years, we did therapy visits at nursing homes and children's hospitals a few times a month. Seka loved her nursing home visits and was always eager to lead me down the halls to her favorite residents. No shock, these were the same women who often saved their bacon from lunch to sneak to her.
When Seka's corns started to get really bad, we had to reduce our visits and eventually we took a break all together and let our TDI certification lapse. She was just so uncomfortable on her feet and no amount of pain meds or Therapaws helped her attitude - and no one wants a therapy dog with a bad attitude. I thought her days as a therapy dog were over. That was until I heard about ReadingPAWS.
ReadingPAWS is a reading support program aimed at helping to improve reading comprehension and vocabulary. The idea is pretty simple - have a struggling reader practice their reading aloud to a non-threatening audience. Certainly, their classmates, teacher and often their parents don't fall into that non-threatening category. But a crazy lady with a dog certainly does. And that's where the magic happens - reading to a dog improves their confidence, allows the students to practice without fear of ridicule and have a positive experience with reading - all thanks to the dog.
Seka's best trick is laying down and taking a nap. And since one of the characteristics of a ReadingPAWS dog is being relaxed for 20 minutes at a time - it sounded like a great fit for us. We went back through the Therapy Dog certification process and a half-day ReadingPAWS training and found a match with a local elementary school where for the last four months we've been tutoring four young readers weekly.
It certainly is amazing to see the progress these second graders have made since January. On our first couple of visits I could barely hear one young man. By the end of the year, he skipped part of field day (something I found shocking for a 9 year old boy who loves P.E.) to read to Seka at a volume that the whole library can hear. Another student stuttered while reading aloud and struggled with fluency. But if she petted Seka with one hand and followed along with her other, she was flawless.
School is out for the summer starting on Thursday and my readers are taking home a "pawtographed" book with a picture of them with Seka placed snugly inside. Our readers even signed Seka's favorite book for her.
ReadingPAWS is an incredibly rewarding experience. Seka looks forward to going to "work" every week. If you can't volunteer at a school, you can volunteer at a library on a monthly basis or at a kids camp or at a church. Check out ReadingPAWS for more information on programs in your area or how to start one yourself.
Oh - and if anyone has any ideas for a purpose for a dog that might be classified as a mental patient, Roxy is looking for some ideas.
My girls are with me all day while I work. 99.9% of the time they are quiet and sleep all day long - like good greyhounds should. They are no bother and you wouldn't even know they are there. Of course it's the .1% when they bark, squeak toys, want to play or decide it is time to love on them that becomes the problem and it always seems to happen when I am on a conference call. It's not cool when you are on the phone to some hot shot in NYC and Roxy decides it is time to stretch her legs and run a few laps with her squeaky squirrel in her mouth.
I have stuffed and frozen Kongs at the ready to give to them to ensure their cooperation for the 30 minutes I'm on the phone. Occasionally a call will last a couple of hours. Believe me, I do everything in my power to prevent long-haul calls, but they happen. For those marathon calls, I pull out the secret weapon - empty peanut butter jars.
I love peanut butter. We go through a lot of it between the dogs and myself. Instead of tossing a jar when it is empty, I save it so the dogs can keep themselves busy licking it clean while I am on those long calls. A bomb could go off in the middle of the room and they wouldn't budge. Well, maybe they would, but they would take their jars with them.