February 13, 2014

By Steve King

The Chestermere Anchor:

What do you get when you mix a love of reading, a love of dogs and the desire to help others?

The answer is “Listening Tails”, a new charity launching in Chestermere with the object of helping children who lack confidence in reading out loud by having them read to therapy dogs in a nice, relaxed atmosphere. Inspired by programs such as “Reading with Rover” and “Story PALS”, Steve King saw there was an opportunity to create something for younger 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.”

Having become a certified dog trainer late in life, King, a lifelong dog lover, had become ever more aware of the various ways in which therapy dogs can help people and “Listening Tails” grew out of a faith that dogs could play a big part in helping children improve their reading. “Dogs are non-judgemental: they won’t criticize the child if he/she mispronounces a word and they love the attention they get when being read to. A true win-win situation” says King.

“When I first approached the Chestermere Public library with this idea, I did wonder what the reaction would be, but I was blown away by the positive reception the program received. The more I discussed the idea with other people, the more positive the feedback became” says King.

The children read to the dogs for 15 minutes once a week for six weeks. Chestermere Public Library is hosting the program and there is no charge to the families who would like to participate. To dispel any fears that some people may have about children interacting with dogs, King stresses the point that all dogs are carefully assessed prior to joining the program as well as completing a medical examination through a local vet. During the actual reading time, all the dogs are leashed and supervised by their handler, who themselves have undergone a police check.

“I would like to thank everyone who has stepped up to help make this idea a reality: they are a great group of local dedicated volunteers who only want the best for the children of Chestermere” says King.

In order to grow the program, Listening Tails would be interested in meeting with anyone who would be interested in having their dog(s) assessed for the program or who have experience in canine behaviour/ assessment. As a not-for-profit Society, Listening Tails is dependent on cash donations to run the program: donations can be sent to the Chestermere Public library, clearly marked as a “Listening Tails Donation” or you can donate on line by going to www.legup.ca and select “Listening Tails” as your charity to support.

If you would like to know more, please visit www.listeningtails.ca or call Steve on (403) 272-1623.