Therapy dogs help WSU Vancouver childcare center kindergartners read

Have you ever come across a child with reading difficulties, social insecurities or uneasiness toward household pets? Therapy Dogs International, an organization dedicated to providing comfort and companionship, has been reaching out to institutions such as the WSU Vancouver Childcare Center tending to these needs since 1976.

TDI is a non-profit organization fueled by volunteers who train therapy dogs for visitations to hospitals, nursing homes, childcare centers and many other facilities serving a variety of purposes. “Four-footed therapists”, as they are often called, are magically able to make connections with those who find it hard to open up to other people around them.

Now recently, TDI has made its way into the WSU Vancouver Childcare center, working wonders in the Kindergarten reading program. Stella, a kid-friendly Norwich Terrier is a reading treat for the Kinders at WSU Vancouver. When her handler brings Stella to the center, Krista Anderson, the kid’s eyes instantly brighten – they know it’s time to read to Stella.

Stella, a Norwich Terrier from Therapy Dogs International at work.

Stella, a Norwich Terrier from Therapy Dogs International at work with WSU Vancouver Childcare center.

Anderson lays down a quilt in the designated reading area, while Stella situates herself and prepares for some honest listening – she is all ears. As each child chooses and reads their weekly readings to Stella, she gives them her undivided attention, and accepts their reading abilities just the way they are. She doesn’t judge, correct or intimidate. This loving acceptance is something the students definitely feel.

“They think of her as a little person that loves them unconditionally” says Anderson.

The children in the childcare center have developed heartwarming relationships with Stella. As she helps them become better readers through her weekly visits, they develop in more ways than they realize. After reading to Stella for a few consecutive weeks, a student once exclaimed, “how long will it take us to teach Stella how to read?”

Cheryl Johnson, the Child Development Program Coordinator at WSU Vancouver shares, “the shy kids have begun to slowly creep out of their shells, and the rowdy ones have actually become more tame. Students who used to fear dogs are growing more comfortable with animals in general since the start of Stella’s regular visits.”

The implementation of therapy dogs in the kindergarten classroom at the childcare center has managed to create a positive environment for reading, which is apparent to all who observe Stella as she delights in her weekly role of a guest audience for emerging readers.

It is no wonder that the staff at the childcare center is seeing such positive results with Stella. TDI’s “Tail-Waggin Tutors” are highly trained, with characteristics that qualify them as therapy dogs. Before a dog may be certified to serve as a therapy dog, it must pass all 15 parts of the American Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Test. To learn more about therapy dogs and the certification required, visit www.tdi-dog.org.

For more photos of Stella at the WSU Childcare Center, visit the Therapy Dogs Gallery page.
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