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Children read to dogs to improve literacy

Christine Grimard
Northern News Services
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - When someone approached N.J. Macpherson school principal Michelle Krause about having her students read to dogs, she thought the idea was a little strange.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Dog handler Umesh Sutendre looks on as Clair Littlefair, 8, reads to Ram as part of a pilot project using therapeutic dogs to improve children's confidence in reading. - Christine Grimard/NNSL photo

But seeing eight-year-old Clair Littlefair reading a much-practiced story to an attentive husky named Ram, Krause could see that the program wasn't such a crazy idea after all.

Northern Therapeutic Animals Increasing Literacy Skills, or Northern TAILS, is a project involving volunteers from St. John's Ambulance and NWT SPCA.

The group had previously mobilized therapeutic dogs for visits to the elderly and to the hospital.

The group is now testing how the dogs can help children with their reading skills.

Volunteer Ken Bridges said therapeutic dogs can provide a non-judgmental listener for the students to help increase their confidence in reading.

"There's no requirement on their reading ability. If they make a mistake there's no judgment," said Bridges.

"It's a very supportive place for the kids to get extra reading practice."

On May 11 a handful of students were paired up with the dogs as part of the pilot project.

If successful, Bridges said he's hoping to expand the program to more students.

Since improving literacy is a focus for N.J. Macpherson, Krause said she was open to anything that could help the students.

Beforehand the children practiced reading their chosen book and also worked on their writing skills by preparing a short biography of themselves for the dogs.

The dogs, with a little help from their owners, also prepared a short biography of themselves. Ram noted he likes to eat and sleep.

Nine-year old Mitchel Pandev gave his thumbs up for the program.

Dog owner Crystalle Laamanen said her dog Cowboy seemed pretty happy to hear the story as his tail was curved.

That should be equivalent to a paws up.