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Paws and listen for a while

The kids in Angie Tuning’s second- and third-grade classroom quiver with excitement.

It’s almost reading time, and today, reading has gone to the dogs.

Waiting patiently — almost too patiently, as the yellow lab Brenda is already snoozing — three dogs in the Reading to Rover program are ready for these young kids to read to them.

This is Reading with Rover’s first time at Camelot Elementary School, but Brenda and her owner, Mary Hall, have been listening at Valhalla Elementary School for two years now.

Becky Bishop with her dog Zoom, Ellen Lorenzen and her dog Chance, along with Hall and Brenda, are all set for the kids.

They explain a few quick rules for approaching dogs. Then it’s time for the reading to begin as the kids split into groups and gather around a dog, in what Bishop calls “dog in the middle.”

As soon as the kids settle down next to their dog, one student reads while others pet the dog, who listens quietly. Each student reads a couple of pages from a book of their choice, and then receives a bookmark featuring their listening dog.

“It makes reading so much fun,” Bishop said, “when you’re reading to a dog.”

That is the premise of the program: That kids, especially those who are shy or have difficulties reading, will find it easier or exciting to read to an animal who does nothing but listen — without any sounds of judgment.

“Reading with dogs is way funner, ‘cause they listen,” student Donovan Ziegler said.

Tuning, who heard about the program on the radio, contacted Hall to arrange this event at Camelot Elementary.

“Kids need a connection to literacy,” Tuning said. “This hooks in the kids and draws shy kids out.”

Her class had been eagerly counting down to the Oct. 17 event, Tuning said.

“As soon as (the dogs) came in here, the energy went way up,” Tuning said.

After the reading hour is over, each student receives a new book to take home, complete with a “paw-o-graph” from one of the dogs.

Special dogs

It takes a special dog to be a Reading with Rover dog.

All of these dogs are Delta Society Pet Partners as well as registered therapy dogs who have also gone through personality tests to make sure they are safe, and that no child has reason to be afraid.

Bishop, who helped start Reading with Rover in Federal Way, said the program is based off the R.E.A.D program in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The program has become popular at Valhalla Elementary, where Brenda and Hall listen every Tuesday morning. Even with focusing on children who are pre-selected to improve their reading skills, the number of kids is overwhelming.

“There’s only one of me,” Hall said. “But the line is out the door.”

Hall loves listening to the kids read and pays close attention to the stories, while Brenda closes her eyes and lies down.

Well, OK, she sleeps.

“I just tell them, ‘You’re just reading so wonderfully you’ve put her to sleep,’” Hall said.

“I tell them when he closes her eyes he’s just imagining,” Bishop added, referring to Zoom.

Brenda, who turned 8 years old this month, was originally a guide dog in training, with Hall and her family as trainers. When she was 12 months old, she was sent back to be a guide dog for a blind person.

However, eight months later, Hall received a call that Brenda was prone to ear infections and was going to be released from the program — and did the family want her?

“We got in the car right then and went to get her,” Hall said.

At this, Bishop begins laughing.

“She was released from guide dog training for ear infections and now she is a listening dog,” Bishop said.

Contact Kyra Low: klow@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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