Puppy Ash

Wouldn’t you love to read to this face?

Let’s just sum up how I feel about the 2016 U.S. Presidential election: fundamentally disturbed. I’m not going into why, as there are hundreds of thousands of words already committed to why I am not pleased with the results: my reasons are no different than those already stated.

I prefer to direct my actions to things that I can change and for me, volunteering is a big part. I have volunteered for one organization or another since I was 25 (which now reminds me I’m older than I remember).

A little backstory: I only started because someone I’ve long forgotten about mentioned that nursing homes love to have dogs visit and I had a Golden Retriever puppy. So I called up the local nursing home and asked if I could bring my dog: they said yes. I now cringe telling this story: I had no training! No direction! No idea what I was doing! Ah, the lucky ignorance of youth. This is when I started to love dogs and dog training: I saw what power dogs had with people on a very moving level. I volunteered to train hearing dogs for the hearing impaired. I added on the local Ronald McDonald house and a few other place – AND YES, I got trained on proper Therapy Dog team procedures and principles.

I had stepped away from doing dog training and therapy dog work for the past 5 years because I started other things (like coaching). But the election – well, that kicked me into action again. I wanted to show – not tell – people how important learning, curiosity, and education truly is to our future. What better way than to volunteer to be a therapy dog team that helped kids learn how to read?

PSA: To work in most facilities in the United States, you need to pass a test and register with a therapy dog organization. This gives you liability insurance and it’s a level of protection for organizations who have therapy teams visit.Therapy dogs ARE NOT SERVICE ANIMALS. They have no legal rights to stores, shopping, or public access but I will leave that rant for another day. Just putting it out there.

I live in an area where there is a well-organized and established Reading Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D.) program already exists – Sprite’s Hero. I had to pass a therapy dog test (Alliance of Therapy Dogs), and my training with Sprite’s Hero was scheduled for yesterday, March 1st. It was six hours long. Now, I had been doing therapy dog work for 12 years before I stopped and I had never attended a six hour training class: I could not figure out what would take so long.

Well, now I know, and had someone told me ahead of time, I may have backed out. Only the first two hours covered what the dog would be required to do. Other than sit still on a blanket and be petted by children, Ash (my six year old Golden Retriever) would also need to learn how to hold a book down with his paw. This was the easy part.

The next four hours were spent going over how to help the kids read. Whoa, I thought, hold on. Why wasn’t the reading teacher or parent doing that part? I was quickly informed that there would be no reading teacher or parent there if I were to work in a school setting: it’s me, the child, my dog, and a book. By the looks on everyone’s faces, they picked up on the fact that I had not prepared for this aspect.

I don’t have children, didn’t help raise anyone else’s children, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read. I listened to my nephew read once and that was the extent of my exposure to children learning to read.

The wonderful instructors for this workshop assured me that my job was to make the *experience* of reading fun and enjoyable. I didn’t need a degree in childhood education to volunteer for this!

And that’s the point of this post – I want to encourage you to find an organization in your area that speaks to your values. If that’s helping Make America Read Again, contact Intermountain Therapy Animals to find a program in your area. I will be volunteering for my local library system (where parents will be alongside the child) and I’m so looking forward to starting this summer!