Berakah – Therapy Dog for Children

Berakah the Reading Dog

see the kids at Tongue River Elementary School reading to Berakah, February 24, 2020

In their Christmas 2019 card, the owners of one of my PP litter included this poem they had written, which I just had to add to this page.

Cel and her Kids

There is a lady named Cel
To her Shepherds she’s a big deal
But even greater to all
Whether the big or the small
Special pleasure she gives
When visiting with her kids
The different locations
Schools, infirmed and the aging
Happy thoughts throughout
With Shepherds have no doubt
Whose unending devotion
Keeping life in full motion
Enlightening all the hearts
Is the big gift Cel imparts!

Thanks, John & Julie, for those beautiful thoughts.

Reading Dog (called by different names in different places) is a nationwide program with documented evidence that pairing a child who is struggling in school with a non-judgmental dog helps not only improve their reading skills but also their overall participation in class. 

In January 2000 a group called Intermountain Therapy Dogs started a pilot program at Bennion Elementary in downtown Salt Lake City. The children who participated were selected by the reading specialist as the ones who were struggling most, not only their reading, but also social skills and difficult circumstances at home. The pilot study revealed not only rapid increases in reading comprehension and skills (as much as two to four grade levels), but other intriguing results as well. Compared with their previous performances, the participating children:
• began demonstrating greater confidence and self-esteem in their relations with classmates,
• completed and turned in their homework assignments more frequently,
• were absent and/or tardy much less often,
• demonstrated improved hygiene, and
• developed strong, empathetic relationships with the animal

Since then, across the nation, reading dog programs have been established in schools, libraries, after school programs, camps, community centers and bookstores and have proven their value time after time.

The Children’s Library sponsored the program for two years.  After they decided not to continue Reading Dog after May 2017, I prepared packets and took them to all the local school districts.
Tongue River Elementary invited us to come to Ranchester (about 15 miles north of Sheridan) beginning in April 2019.  One of our therapy dog teams went there each school day until the end of the school year.  Beginning in September 2019, they asked for us two days a week (several of the kids they needed us for last spring having moved to the Middle School), so two of us alternate Monday mornings and two others alternate Thursday afternoons.  Berakah & GloryToo share the Reading Dog duties since we’re scheduled from 10 – 11:45, a long time for one dog.  Unfortunately no one has taken any photos.

Berakah at Tongue River High School
October 2019

Then Tongue River High School, which is in Dayton, about 6 miles past Ranchester, asked for a Reading Dog to come on Monday afternoons. They have a special reading class for 8th – 10th graders who struggle to read.  So now I take one dog (either Berakah or GloryToo) on the Mondays that I don’t go to the elementary school.  One of the staff members took photos of us and shared them with me.  Some of the kids like to come individually; others like to come in pairs.  

Berakah at Holy Name School
October 2019

A friend of mine is the new music teacher at Holy Name Catholic School and invited me to bring a therapy dog to visit as part of their life skills experiences.  Berakah was quite the hit.  We’re hoping that visit broke the ice and Holy Name School will ask for Reading Dogs

Berakah at the Children’s Library

September 2015

March, 2015

Berakah regularly participated in our local library’s Reading Dog Program, which links therapy dogs with children who are struggling to learn to read, or any child who wants to spend time reading to a therapy dog.  She and her dad, Chaos, started the program at our library in December, 2014.  Two of my dogs, initially Chaos and Berakah, but later joined by GloryToo, Spirit and Cantor,  went to the library on Friday afternoons from 2:30 – 5.  Children signed up for thirty minute appointments to read to them.  Each therapy dog normally works for an hour.  Since the library had never let dogs inside, we decided the therapy dogs would wear special vests both to identify them and to advertise the Reading Dog program.

The library had asked if I would bring the puppies onet Friday when I came with a big dog for the Reading dog program. They had kids signed up only for the 2:30 and 3:30 slots, so they asked if we could have puppy playtime from 3 to 3:30.  The two librarians would babysit the pups while Berakah did the first appointment, and the pups could sleep in the crate I brought to the children’s librarian’s office while Berakah had her second appointment.  It didn’t work out that way at all!  After we brought in the crate, bag of puppy toys, camera, puppies and Berakah, the 2:30 appointment called and cancelled.  The librarians were thrilled and said, “Let’s start puppy playtime NOW!”  There were kids in the children’s library and all indicated they’d love to play with the puppies.  I already had Berakah inside so I put her on a down on the stage of the children’s theater while the pups played with kids on the floor and up the “steps” that children sit on for presentations.  Poor Berakah, all those toys rolling and flying past her, children chasing puppies and puppies chasing
children, and she had to stay put.   She did, and attracted her own crowd on the stage.

One little girl, Ophelia, decided Berakah was being ignored and needed a book read to her so she sat on the stage with Berakah and read one.

Then Michelle, the head children’s librarian decided she needed to read a book to Berakah (and the children gathered around).  Berakah sure looks like she’s reading along with Michelle.  I love the expressions on their faces!

As I tried to extract the pups from everyone so we could go home, Berakah settled on the floor in the main children’s library room and continued to charm moms and kids.  Everyone was exhausted when we got home.  That was a wild 90 minutes!