After watching an episode of ABC's Home Makeover show that featured a gentleman who lost his sight and was given a second chance at independence through a Guide Dog, a co-worker and I were commenting on what a difference the dog could make in the life of this gentleman. I told her it was something I wouldn't mind doing if only I knew of such an organization. My co-worker, who volunteers at the Columbia County Humane Society, told me about WAGS. My love for dogs, along with my commitment to give back to the community, meshed well with the WAGS program. Since 2005, I have raised and trained Dexter, Elliot and now Farley. Some of my favorite experiences with WAGS have been the Golf Outing in June 2006, visiting Cognitively Disabled Severe (CDS) and Early Childhood classes in area school districts with the puppies in training, and the shear enjoyment I get working with the puppies.
READING TO A DOG by CINDY HOLLAND, Volunteer Puppy Raiser
About a year ago, WAGS Program Director, Kelly, told me about a program she’d been a part of while a student at the Assistance Dog Institute where kids read to dogs. Using dogs to help children improve their reading skills is not a new concept. It’s being done all over the country. Now, it was time to start at WAGS; partnering with a local school district using WAGS dogs in training with the kids. Since I’m employed by a Cooperative Education Service Agency and a Volunteer Puppy Raiser, I had the right contacts to help get this program off the ground.
After contacting the Reading Specialist, Kathy Strayer, at Pardeeville School District, I became very excited about starting this program. Kathy was quite knowledgeable about these reading programs and was excited to get one started with some of her students. Sometimes children can feel fearful or intimated when reading aloud in front of their peers. Children who have difficulty reading often fear making mistakes in front of their peers. They may be shy or lack confidence, or may be kids who just have short attention spans. Kids reading to dogs was established to give kids an opportunity to practice and enjoy reading away from the normal classroom environment.
Kids don’t have to be self-conscious, worried or embarrassed when they’re with a dog. When children read to a dog, the dog doesn’t care if the child mispronounces a word, or has trouble sounding it out. Dogs don’t tease, laugh or judge. They just listen. When the dog is listening, the environment is transformed. A child’s dread is replaced by eager anticipation and learning occurs.
Kathy and I have partnered, along with WAGS Service Dogs in training Farley, Forrest and, now, Happy to give students this reading opportunity. We have seen marked improvement in the student’s reading abilities. While the student’s are able to come out of this experience with new skills and a renewed confidence in reading, I have come away with so much more, and our WAGS dogs benefit as well!
Cindy is currently training Murphy.