Thrive logo
spacer Log in | Register spacer
corner spacer corner
corner browseissues corner
corner spacer corner
corner popularlinks corner
corner spacer corner
corner spacer corner
corner spacer corner
corner spacer corner

Therapy Dogs Are A Reader’s Best Friend
By Hannah Sutherland

On her regular Friday-morning shift, Katie walks into White Rock Elementary and is greeted by the excited students she has come to help read.

She has two associates in tow – 200-pound, three-foot-tall Chewbacca, whose head could compete with the size of most watermelons, and nine-year-old Dougal, who has been known to sit on students when she senses they are having a rough day.

Despite having a bad back and sight in just one eye – not to mention being a dog – there is no doubting Katie’s ability to engage young learners.

The six-year-old miniature English bull terrier has been coming to the school the last few months to provide a non-judgemental and inviting audience for students who are working to improve their literacy skills.

As a fully trained therapy dog certified in the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program, Katie – as well as Chewbacca and Dougal – can sit for extended periods of time as children read aloud to them.

For youngsters like Teaghan Summerhayes, practising with dogs makes the daunting prospect of reading in front of a classroom easier to stomach.

“I have stage fright,” the 10-year-old says, noting she was unable to do a recent class presentation. “I don’t like reading out loud but when I read to dogs, I’m fine.”

“When I have dogs, I’m not afraid to say what I need to say.”

The animals are animated listeners, often perking up their ears at certain points in a story, or – as is the case with Katie – barking when a student forgets to show her a picture before turning the page.

“I like the fact that when you get to read with the dogs, the dogs actually understand what you’re saying,” Summerhayes says.

The program was brought to White Rock Elementary by school parent Linda Putman, who began volunteering to read with students last fall with the intention of eventually introducing them to her dog, Katie.

Katie had nearly completed her therapy-dog training when she lost sight in one eye due to glaucoma. Two years later, after recovering and relearning the necessary skills, the terrier gained her READ certification. She now visits White Rock Elementary once a week, her resilience teaching students how capable animals and people with impairments can be, Putman says.

In the program – called Hug-A-Bull Readers – Katie is joined by Dougal, who knows she is heading to the school as soon as owner Christine Bishop puts on the dog’s special red vest and leash.

Katie, a standard English bull terrier, has a reputation for being sensitive to children’s moods, having eased a crying boy’s tears by simply approaching him and sitting in his lap.

“I think the dogs do know they’re here for the children,” Bishop says.

The pooches relax the children, she notes, distracting them from any fearful aspects of reading by being available for pats and hugs.

When reciting to the dogs, students aren’t just improving their reading ability, according to Putman. They also learn comprehensive skills by explaining to the dogs what certain words mean, and work on being active listeners when reading in a group.

Participants – who are selected by teachers – also gain self esteem and confidence, and practice important social skills when taking a break from reading to play soccer with Katie. They learn to work as a team and congratulate each other, all the while being mindful of Katie out on the field.

“Empathy is really important,” Putman adds. “Animals bring empathy out in children.”

Students also learn about responsibility when taking hold of Katie’s leash, bringing her water or carrying her up and down stairs due to her sore back.

“It’s so much more than just reading,” Putman says of the program. “It’s a hidden gem that no one knows is here.”

Chewbacca’s owner, B.J. Fleegham, says she is aware of just one other school in the Surrey district offering READ. She introduced the program to Don Christian Elementary in Cloverdale two years ago, and continues to volunteer there once a week with Chewbacca and four-foot-tall Liam, her two-year-old Irish wolfhound.

It’s Fleegham’s hope that students in other schools can be given the same opportunity.

Putman agrees.

“There’s no reason there shouldn’t be a READ program in every school.”

But before the program can grow, more dogs need to be trained.

“The goal here is take away the smoke and mirrors around having a therapy dog,” Putman says. “It’s not as hard as you think.”

Dog Reading Program by Tristan McIntosh

My name is Tristan McIntosh. I am in Grade 5 and have trouble reading. I take part in the Dog Reading Program to help me read better. The dog reading program is when the dog comes into school and reads with kids. Now I will tell you about the dogs. Two dogs come to the school to read. Katie and Dougal. Katie is a great goalie. Kids love Katie and Dougal. Katie is a girl. She has one eye because of glaucoma. Doogal is a funny dog and is a girl too. She likes to role on her tummy. When I read with Katie she puts her head on the ground and her ears up to listen. Doogal puts her head on my leg to listen.

Anre McIntosh:

As a parent I think the program is fantastic.  It helped Tristan with his reading and became an activity that he looked forward to taking part in.  I think that most of the credit has to go to Linda, Christine and the other’s who volunteer their time and the dogs themselves who facilitate the learning process for the kids.

Contact link and steps for becoming a Therapy Dog

1. Steps to be a Therapy DogTraining starts at any age. Click on this link to start.

2. – To get the paper work for tests

3. – For certification test

4. R.E.A.D. – READ certification

5. – Email ‘BJ’ for R.E.A.D. school introduction paperwork for starting R.E.A.D in a school

For more information please contact Linda Putman at

Back to Stories

COMMENT (0) | animal companion, animal training, children, learning


Leave a Reply

corner spacer corner
corner spacer corner
corner spacer corner
corner comments corner
  • Angel: I learned how to detach from my drunk husband! Than my mother passed away. All gloves were off after that. My...
  • Lorraine: Married thirty seven and a half years to an alcoholic. But he is a good person. And he does good deeds for...
  • jw: I have been with my husband twenty one years. We have three children together, ages 5,7, and 9. He is a...
  • Richard Berman: A emotional story well written with bright eye ups and sad eye downs. A story I could relate to. My...
  • Gina: Love this. Just what I needed to read. Thank you for your courage to share this.
  • Tired: I am struggling with detaching, but still trying. I have been with my other half off and on for 5 years. The...
  • Debra Grossman: Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. It nourishes my soul to learn of such special...
  • Jack russell: Really enjoyed reading the website. I have also have a website about this great dog.
  • Anonymous: Thank God for your blog. After 37 years of being married to an alcoholic,I’ve finally reached my...
  • Anonymous: Thanx 4 da truth
  • Sandra: I am from USA, i am 36 years old, i want to gladly give My testimony of how a spell caster dr.mac@yahoo. com...
  • g: Thank you for your words. As I navigate through marriage with children (11, 5, 3) and I am a stay at home mom, the...
  • Catherine Ellen Pettway: My husband and I married in 1988. He occasionally drank beer but not everyday. He came from...
  • Nic: Thank you Mike for your honesty and vulnerability. It helps to feel a connection with someone who understands...
  • Robert Goldsmith: Thank you for sharing that very intimate experience and your story. I’m married to an...
  • MANDI: Is this group still going? I love my husband and I knew what I was getting into when I married him. I knew he...
  • Kelly: Dear Keith, I hope you are at peace now. You are missed by many.
  • Delilah Campos: Dear LaVora, Thank you so much for sharing this intimate experience. I am deeply touched and...
  • Mary Ellen Bennett: Thank you so much. I am married to an alcoholic and I have watched him go through rehabilitation...
  • Tracy: Thank you for sharing your story with me Ivor. I’m so glad you had a loving supportive Aunt to guide you...
  • Joe Longo: Love this photo
  • Daniel Fontana: I know those kids,especially Snezana.Please send me their contact information.
  • Neyhaaa: I can’t thank you enough for sharing this. Yet, thank you.
  • Amy: My daughter is five and her dad is an alcoholic. I know we need to leave. We both own our house and I...
  • CPC: I think this is among the such a lot important info for me. And i’m happy studying your article. However...
  • online festival: Every year, people in India find different ways to celebrate the same festival, and perhaps this...
  • Karol: Listening to all the mother’s on here is overwhelming for me. I think about what all of you are going...
  • Vicki Osheka: This is my second marriage and I came from a non drinking family. Didn’t realize what I was...
  • Elle: Wel written article. My husband is walking around totally beligerant. Where he ends up making messes, he has...
  • Maren: Thank you for this! 3rd day on Cipralex and a glimmer of hope.
  • Anonymous: I ‘gave in’ recently. I am more hopeful than ever that things will improve for me after...
  • LindaJane Riley: I apologize to everyone who has commented. I didn’t know this story was still active. I would...
  • Rahulbh28: Dear Members, Please help me. . . I’m sharing my painful moments which my brother and my family...
  • rene: Yes i too lived the nightmare for 45 yrs..when in my marriage the last. 10 yrs my alcoholic lived in the same...
  • Grace: I typed in Google search, overcoming childhood loneliness because I am paying attention to some habits that I...
  • Casadina: I am so thankful that I found this website. I am like others on here and my alcoholic is passed out snoring...
  • Grateful: I cannot express how much I appreciate your story. I have been with my alcoholic for 11 years and I do not...
  • Vic: I stumbled upon this beautifully written article because I just “gave in” today. I just picked up my...
  • Carol: I have recently begun to admit that my husband is an alcoholic. My heart is broken… I am pissed… I...
  • TJ: Thank you for this article. You are the first person who seems to understand why I am still married to an...
  • sariah: I wept as I read your story. I am currently learning to detach as well after 20 years of marriage to an...
  • LaVora: Good luck, N. My experience may not be yours. However, I deeply believe that happiness is our birthright. You...
  • nk: Lavora, I am exactly here in my marriage – trying to turn it around. Rgds, N
  • Suzanne: Hi Martin and Cathy. Watched your documentary. You are a wonderful family. Everyone has their struggles, no...
  • admin: Thank you for letting us know. The link is now set to the their new WEB page. We have our dog from them.
  • Linda Jane Riley: About a year ago I was forced to take a step back from all things related to alcoholism. My...
  • SHerry: Your link to the rescue adoption site is for sale with no other info on the dogs.
  • Marleen: Thank you for sharing your story! That’s real inspirating!
  • Julie: Its 4:50am here. I can hear him snoring in the nursery. I brought the baby to bed with me.. He only snores...
  • ld: I thought I was suffering alone. The advice and comments make me feel better and gives me the strength to go on....
  • Sam: Hi Mike, Very poignant, “There are no grown-ups. We are all children in adult garments” is right on...
  • TJ: Thank You!!! Like “judy” commented above my mind was racing and I felt out of control… My life...
  • Karunakaran: It’s very nice.
  • judy: Thanks for ur writings… it really help my mind to calm down…. where can i go to talk with alot of...
  • Tanya Sousa: We certainly do have to change the way we respond, don’t we Paul? I’m encouraged though. I...
  • Paul Trainer: Thank you, Tanya, this is all so true. As someone who adores starlings too, I know that it is only when...
  • Cathy: In reading I see how difficult it is to be married to an alcoholic husband for 30 years and have now...
  • carrir: You took the words right out of my mouth. Xoxo
  • ceri: What an amazing story of love between step son and step father
  • Caney Texas: Hello! I’ve been reading your site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and...
  • julie: what a wonderful article, she described me to a tee , it was nice to put words to the feelings , I am new to...
  • michele: I am hurting so badly right now, it is taking all the strength and coping ability I have just to get through...
  • denise morini: PLEASE understand that I do not feel redeemed……still 230;……..getting Lexi...
corner spacer corner
Copyright 2010 All rights reserved. | Privacy Statement