March 19, 2014
By Sarah Papke
The Chestermere Anchor:
Some of the best listeners are those who can show the most patience and who are non-judgmental; for dog lovers it is no surprise that sometimes those traits can be easiest found in the furriest of creatures.
Listening Tails is a new program that recently launched in partnership with the Chestermere Public Library. At only one week in, there is already nearly a dozen children registered to read to the dogs that have been pre-screened for the right temperament, health and obedience by certified dog trainers and veterinarians.
This free program is run by the Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society and was established by Steve King to help children improve their confidence in reading by reading out loud to dogs. King is a local certified dog trainer who saw there was an opportunity to create something for children that had not been tried before in Chestermere.
“I know how much I have learned over the years through reading and how much enjoyment you can get by losing yourself in a good novel” says King. “I feel that children who struggle with reading are losing out so much I was determined to try and help them in a different sort of way.”
The idea of animals helping people is not a new one, in fact there are many testimonies to the psychological benefits that animals can provide humans. When it comes to children learning to read, especially for those who may be struggling, a dog with a love of literature can be just what is needed to get over the hurdle of reading out loud.
Reading to a dog can be fun and rewarding for children who might otherwise lack the confidence or desire to read. Through the animal, a safe environment is created, so making a mistake comes without any fear of embarrassment.
The children in the program get the opportunity to read to the quiet dogs for 15 minutes once a week for six weeks. During the reading time, the dogs are leashed and supervised by the handler who volunteers their time and who have undergone a police check for the safety of everyone involved in the program.
The program is already expanding to include a new component called “Visiting Tails”. Visiting Tails will begin in late March with a goal to provide pet visitation therapy to seniors in the Chestermere area. The program is starting at the Prince of Peace Manor, located on the Trans-Canada highway west of Chestermere.
“I’m also looking at the viability of visiting seniors in their homes in Chestermere.” shares King.
Certified dogs and their handlers will visit with the residents of the Manor and Harbour bi-weekly, brightening the residents’ day and sometimes even rekindling memories of long forgotten stories.