Reading to Children with a Therapy Dog 

By George Sallee and Simon

Simon and I began our joint career reading to children at the Barnes and Nobel Bookstore in Woodinville, Washington. Every Saturday morning, it was my wife’s and my practice to go to the local book store and see what new books had come in.  After Simon had come to stay in our home and we found out that he had a great potential as a therapy dog.

It was the store’s procedure/practice to have one of their employees read to the Kids Club at 11:00 am on Saturday morning. Simon and I would sit and watch the reaction of the children to the story of the week.  One Saturday in the spring of 2015, there was nobody to read.  I asked the store manager what happened and he said the employee was sick. I offered to read and after telling the boss that I was a registered pet partners therapy team with insurance. I was given a try out.  I must have passed because I have been reading to the Kids club every Saturday since that day. I will say that the employees like for me to do it and I get a chance to check out all of the new kid’s books.

One Saturday in the fall of 2015, a women started talking to me about my experience at Barnes and Noble.  She said she was the librarian for Maltby Elementary School. I was soon reading to 4 classrooms full of children on both mornings.  I took books to read with me and soon knew that I needed two copies of each title. I could not show pictures and read the text without winding up with a severe headache and a stiff and sore neck. With two copies, I could focus on reading the text while the teacher or a child showed the pictures. Simon was always there stretched out on the floor with one or more children petting him.

In the late spring of 2016, I started an experiment with two books of which I bought 7 copies of each title. The books were Bailey’s Story and Ellie’s Story by W. Ron Cameron. Bailey was about a Golden Retriever puppy; of course Simon is one too.  Ellie was about a German Shepherd puppy that becomes a search and rescue dog. Both books are written from the dog’s perspective and they are wonderful stories for the young. The children began to read one page and then give the book to someone else to read the third page. While that transaction was going on, the second page was read by a different child who then picked a child to read the fourth page on and on it went. Soon everyone in the classroom had read a page out loud.  Those that were reluctant to read got caught up in the story and soon volunteered to read out loud to the classroom. All of the teachers were pleased as this behavior had not been seen before. 

This year I am reading to 16 classrooms a week. That is 16 different groups of children.  I will cover grades K through 5 and the special needs classroom.  I will use two different therapy dogs in my team; my distinguished Therapy Dog Simon who is a Golden Retriever and Tigger, my Novice Long Haired Dachshund who is a multi champion. I have a wheel chair that I set Tigger in so that he is at the same level as beds and wheelchairs. 

I have some favorite books that I think are useful in promoting a joy of reading. I hope you will try some of these with your children.

Special Fairy Tails.
Petite Rouge, A Cajun Red Riding Hood By Mike Artell
Three Little Javelin’s by Susan Lowell
Papa Gatto by Ruth Sanderson

Special Dog Stories for K thru 2nd
Gene Zion’s book’s:
Harry, the Dirty Dog
No Roses for Harry
Harry by the Sea
Harry and the Lady Next Door

Andrea Beatty Books  1st through 5th Grade
Iggy Peck Architect
Rosey Revere Engineer
Ada Twist Scientist

Monster Stories by Amanda Noll
I Need My Monster
Hey, That’s my Monster

I use these books to stimulate creative story telling in  3rd though 5th Grade
The Book with no Pictures by B.J. Novak
And One of the Following (only pictures no words)
Journey, Quest or Return by Aaron Becker

My very best favorites are by W. Bruce Cameron
Bailey’s Story
Ellie’s Story

It seems that everyone wins when children read to my therapy dogs—the children, the dogs, the teacher, and of course, me.

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