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'Reading dogs' take a bite out of students' fear

Posted January 8, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Whenever Cristian Garza stumbles over a word while reading, the fourth-grader can get support from his friends – Mandy the Mastiff, Zoe the Border Collie and Maddy the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Known as Reading Education Assistance Dogs, or R.E.A.D., the canines visit Brassfield Elementary School in Raleigh every week to help students who have trouble reading, problems with confidence or learning disabilities.

'Reading dogs' take a bite out of students' fear Dogs help students read

Teachers and counselors select students for the canine coaching.

“It’s a confidence thing,” said Pam Rocque, a dog-handler. “The dog is not going to say, ‘Hey, you got that word wrong,’ not going to laugh at the child, not going to make fun of them. They can stumble over words, and the dog just sits there and listens very quietly.”

Many of the students who enter the program are only able to read picture books with very few words. By the time they are finished, many of the students can read longer chapter books.

“Sometimes, I get nervous and get stuck on the word, and I can’t sound it out, so (the dog) helps me … relax more,” Cristian said.

Third-grader Emma Briskman said she used to get low grades and struggle in school.

“Now, my grades are getting better,” she said.

Students who work with the dogs are not picked on by other students, teachers said.

“It’s not that they’re being taken out (of class) because they need extra help. They’re special because they get to read to the dog,” said second-grade teacher Nancy Masteller.

The dogs carry liability insurance and go through rigorous training before they are introduced to students.


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  • Gnathostomata Jan 8, 2009

    Dogs Rule!

  • clover1019 Jan 8, 2009

    great story!! i too had a dog that would visit us on the playground in elementary school it was so much fun. he was actually a kid in my classes dog that lived right behind the school. that bush's beans dog comment was too funny!

  • icdumbpeople Jan 8, 2009

    Great story!!

  • OrdinaryCitizen Jan 8, 2009

    "Hate to say it but while we are coddling kids like this, kids in China and India are going to school on Saturdays and doing extra homework like Kuman. Plan on us being a second tier country soon full of folks who have no skills and don't work hard."

    Well said and agree.
    BTW - those dogs look bored senseless.

    Its a nice story but how many kids are distracted from the dogs being there?

  • sunneyone Jan 8, 2009

    Talk about a teacher's pet. ;)

    I think this program is great. It's a good way to help kids and it's not coddling them. It's finding a creative solution to a problem and HELPING. Disabled children need all the help they can get. How dare anyone resent programs for them.

  • cyauch Jan 8, 2009

    It's a shame to read some of the negative comments posted about this story. First of all, these pet owners are volunteers doing this on their own time. So, don't worry about your petty tax dollars. Perhaps those people should educate themselves first by doing some research on the animal-human relationship and the benefits of animal assisted activities and animal assisted therapy. Some children may be great students, but may be very shy and self-conscious. Reading out loud to a pet has been proven to help overcome this and other obstacles. I am a pet partner volunteer with my dog and we make regular visits to a center for the developmentally disabled. It is the most wonderful and rewarding experience imaginable. Seeing someone smile who is otherwise normally unresponsive is beyond words. It's awesome. I feel very fortunate to be able to help others in this way and hope that those who don't understand will do some reading of their own.Start with deltasociety.org or carolinacanines.org.

  • wkirk Jan 8, 2009

    Maybe Duke from the Bush's baked beans commercial is available in case they need help sounding out a word.

  • NC Reader Jan 8, 2009

    "Hate to say it but while we are coddling kids like this, kids in China and India are going to school on Saturdays and doing extra homework like Kuman."

    I'm willing to bet that most of the children who can't read or achieve on the expected level in those countries are probably begging in the streets, working in some menial job, or institutionalized for being "retarded". I'm grateful that schools here, on the whole, are focused on trying to help all children learn. Many children who have learning disabilities, with this kind of help, will grow up to become productive citizens. Some may even be leaders. I don't think that having animals in reading programs is "coddling" students any more than having therapy animals visit hospitals and nursing homes is "coddling" sick and elderly people.

  • bkallen04 Jan 8, 2009

    Awwww, this is so touching! It may not be a "feel good program" but it made me feel good! We should use dogs for more things such as this. There's nothing better (other than a child) than a cold wet nose to make you feel all better after a bad day :)

  • colliedave Jan 8, 2009

    Great use of a "therapy" dog, teaches a child not to be afraid of dogs and builds his confidence. My oldest collie is somewhat scared on kids and my youngest collie would want to spend the time having the kid throw him a ball or play soccer with him.