Advertisement

Select Page

Reading to Dogs

Reading to Dogs

Dylan finds a comfortable spot and settles in to hear a story about star-crossed lovers who must fight for their lives in a sinister science fiction future. He pricks up his ears at certain passages but, otherwise, he is impassive, seemingly entranced by the tale. When words are mispronounced, he never corrects or criticizes. He is an attentive listener. Or at least, it appears that way.

Dylan, a smooth-haired collie, participates in the Therapy Animals Involved in Literacy Support (TAILS) program. Through TAILS, children are paired with therapy dogs once a week to improve reading skills and gain confidence through practice. The program is administered by St. John Ambulance (SJA) www.sja.ca, which provides intensive training for dogs. In the BC Interior, TAILS is available at schools in Vernon, Salmon Arm, Kelowna, Kamloops and Nelson. Every other week, Dylan and his owner Ellen Boelcke visit the only school in Kelowna that currently offers the program.

On this day at KLO Middle, Malachi, an energetic Grade 7 student, is clearly pleased to see his visitors. He chats with Ellen about gym class while the normally subdued dog jostles for attention, pressing up against the boy’s leg, tail wagging happily. Malachi pets the dog and says it’s nice to spend time with him since he can’t have a dog of his own. When he takes a seat on the couch, Dylan jumps up beside him (something he is never allowed to do at home). Within seconds, the dog adjusts to his therapy role. Malachi takes Hunger Games off the shelf and begins reading.

The response to the program from volunteers, students and parents has been overwhelmingly positive. During her two years of volunteering, Ellen has seen improvement in students’ reading ability, vocabulary and confidence. As for her dog, she laughs and says, “If dogs could have callings, this would be his.” Despite loudspeaker announcements and a boisterous group outside the door, Dylan remains calm. He is an ideal therapy dog. Ellen had no doubt of that after initial tests by SJA.

“During testing, I had Dylan on the leash while several children with loud toys rolled around on the ground.  The trainers were looking for Dylan’s reaction. Would he get spooked or jump on the children?” She recalls another test that would unnerve most dogs. “They put owners and dogs in a corner then banged chairs on the floor as they moved towards us—basically cornering us. A lot of dogs would try to break out of that circle but Dylan just sat there curious but calm.”

Malachi also reads to a well-trained golden retriever named Meesha and her owner Geri Eakins, who was eager to join when KLO Middle launched the program in 2008. “Each week, the student becomes more relaxed and connected to Meesha,” says Geri. “Malachi’s reading has not only improved, but so has his confidence and self-esteem. It is a lovely experience to be a part of.”

Leigh Ciurka, SJA’s regional coordinator for the BC Interior, notes that “children really open up to the dogs and can find reading to them much less stressful than they sometimes feel when they are with humans.”

A UCLA study quantified the benefits of therapy dogs, finding that cardiac patients who were visited regularly by dogs had significantly lower heart and lung pressure and epinephrine levels (a measure of stress hormones) dropped by 17 per cent compared with two per cent with human visitors alone. The only drawback Leigh has found is that SJA cannot always supply enough dog teams to meet the demand.—Lisa Harrison
Photo by Lisa Harrison

Related Post

About The Author

Editor

Okanagan Life captures the essence of life in the Okanagan Valley with informative and entertaining features on issues that matter to people who live or vacation in this great region, plus stories on Okanagan destinations, personalities, wine, food, history, outdoor recreation and more. We're now in our 30th year of publishing. Subscribe

30,000 giveaway for small business okanagan

Current Issue

yearly-subscribeDigital Edition - Yearly Subscription

Each month, we're giving away 30 free annual subscriptions to celebrate our 30th year in publishing! With a digital subscription, you can enjoy Okanagan Life on your tablet.

Upcoming Events

Jan
19
Fri
7:30 pm Cheng² Duo @ Frank Venables Theatre
Cheng² Duo @ Frank Venables Theatre
Jan 19 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Cheng² Duo @ Frank Venables Theatre | Oliver | BC | Canada
Friday January 19, 2018 – 7:30 CHENG² DUO Presented by the South Okanagan Concert Society Committed to bringing classical music to 21st-century audiences through innovative programming and engaging presentations, Canadian classical pianist and cellist Silvie[...]
Jan
27
Sat
10:00 am The 2018 Scotties Tournament of ... @ South Okanagan Events Centre (SOEC)
The 2018 Scotties Tournament of ... @ South Okanagan Events Centre (SOEC)
Jan 27 @ 10:00 am – Feb 4 @ 1:00 pm
The 2018 Scotties Tournament of Hearts @ South Okanagan Events Centre (SOEC) | Penticton | BC | Canada
The country’s best women’s curling teams will not only be chasing a Canadian championship, they’ll also be playing under a new format at the 2018 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, B.C. The Canadian women’s[...]
7:30 pm The Paperboys @ Rotary Centre for the Arts
The Paperboys @ Rotary Centre for the Arts
Jan 27 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
The Paperboys @ Rotary Centre for the Arts | Kelowna | BC | Canada
Celebrating their 25th anniversary year, Vancouver Canadian musician Tom Landa, is looking back on the legacy of his much-loved folk rock band The Paperboys. For a quarter century, The Paperboys have been touring the world[...]
Jan
30
Tue
7:30 pm Misery: Theatre Series @ Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre
Misery: Theatre Series @ Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre
Jan 30 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Misery: Theatre Series @ Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre | Vernon | BC | Canada
The Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre proudly presents Arts Club Theatre’s production of Misery on Tuesday, January 30 at 7:30pm. Misery is the third performance in the Society’s 2017/18 Theatre series. Written by William[...]

TWITTER

Error: Please enter a valid email address

Error: Invalid email

Error: Please enter your first name

Error: Please enter your last name

Error: Please enter a username

Error: Please enter a password

Error: Please confirm your password

Error: Password and password confirmation do not match