Trained dogs help students learn to read

BRANDON — In a quiet corner of the student support room at the Neshobe Elementary School in Brandon, a boy reads and a dog listens.
It’s Friday, and third-grader William Burt, 9, is carefully reading aloud to Ivan, a two-year-old German shorthaired pointer, and Ivan’s owner, Kristie Adams.
Ivan is a therapy dog, and once a month Adams brings him to Neshobe through a program offered by Caring Canines Therapy, a nonprofit group based in Massachusetts. He is one of three dogs that visit the student support room at Neshobe to do just that: support.
“We pick kids at the beginning of the year who can use practice reading,” said Neshobe Guidance Counselor Danielle Spaulding. “Reading aloud builds fluency and confidence.”
And there is no judgment with dogs. Spaulding said studies show that therapy dogs lower the students’ heart rate, so the kids are calm and at ease as they make their way from page to page with Ivan at their feet and Adams by their side.
“It’s a break,” Spaulding said. “A little one-on-one time for the student.”
Ten kids at Neshobe are currently in the program; each gets a 15-minute slot from among the three therapy dogs that visit the school each month.
Adams, a Pittsford resident, has been bringing Ivan to Neshobe for about a year, and she says the visits are good for him, too.
“It’s wonderful for the dogs,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to be exposed to new things and practice self-control.”
When he’s not listening to children read, Ivan is a show dog, having just come from the biggest show of all, the American Kennel Club’s Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City in February. Ivan won Reserve Winner’s Dog at the show, while Adams’ other pointer, Filli, won Winner’s Bitch.
Adams said she hopes Filli will be certified as a therapy dog in April.
There are 10 exercises the dogs must perform adequately in order to become a registered therapy dog with Caring Canines. The exercises are designed to demonstrate an even temperament, obedience, patience and intelligence.
By day, Adams works for Exterus Business Furniture selling contract furniture to hospitals and businesses. She trains Ivan and does the therapy dog work on her own time, with the blessing of her employer.
“Without their support and commitment to the community, I couldn’t do these visits during work days,” Adams said of Exterus.
KRISTIE ADAMS SHOWS off Ivan’s show ribbon from the Westminster Dog Show, as Ivan looks on. Brandon Reporter photo/Lee J. Kahrs
But she said the payoff for all of the training and travel is the look on the kids’ faces and the connection that is made every time they visit. They also visit senior living residences.
“Just the fun of watching the interaction with the kids, and the older folks, to see their faces going from no emotion to huge smiles, it’s just wonderful,” Adams said.
Back in the Neshobe student support room, Jonathan Eno, 9, is reading to Ivan. Math Interventionist Laura O’Brien said the staff looks forward to the dog’s monthly visits, too.
“They’re therapeutic for all of us,” she said. “They’re very calming.”
After Adams left Neshobe that day, she made a quick stop at Otter Valley Union High School with
Ivan, and wrote a follow-up email to the Reporter.
“There was a young lady with some serious physical disabilities that just fell in love with Ivan,” Adams wrote. “She asked several questions, fed him treats, gave commands and fussed over him. When it was time to leave, she leaned over — wobbly on her feet, as she uses a cane — kissed Ivan gently on the head and said, ‘Ivan, you’ll be forever in my heart.’
“I had all I could do not to cry. So, when you asked why I do this, THAT is why.”

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