These books are 'dog-eared'


 

NORTH CANAAN - Probably no one loves to go to school as much as Lucky. He seems to know instinctively when hopping into the car means a trip to North Canaan Elementary School. Sometimes he gets so excited he has to go to time-out until he calms down.

Lucky is a 4-year-old black Labrador retriever and part of the school's Delta Society dog reading program.

"He's a goofball," owner Diane Monroe said affectionately. "He just loves being with the kids."

Monroe and Lucky come to the school twice a week to read with first- and second-graders. A rotating schedule for the hour-long sessions allows each student to read with Lucky several times during the school year.

The program began in September 2006, after second-grade teacher Ashley DeMazza took her family's dogs for training at the Canine Sports Center in Goshen. There she heard about the Pet Partners Program, which trains dogs and their owners for all sorts of therapy and human interaction.

DeMazza's Reading Dog version was an instant hit with students.

Regardless of his or her reading level, each child gets a turn. It's as much about fostering the enjoyment of reading as honing skills.

Sometimes program volunteers read while a student cuddles with a dog. Most of the time, the student reads to the dog, with Monroe coaching them as needed with new or difficult words.

"Kids have a natural love for animals and dogs give unconditional love," DeMazza said. "They make a great audience. Kids don't have the same hesitation about reading to them as they usually do in front of the class or an adult."

Participation is optional, but DeMazza has yet to have a student turn down the opportunity.

"They look forward to it as much now as they did when we first started."

For Monroe, it's also about her energetic dogs "needing a job." For her, the interaction between Lucky and the students never gets old.

She has a calmer dog, a mixed breed named Maestro, whom she takes about every other week to visit Gardenside Lodge, the Geer Village facility for the memory-impaired.

DeMazza welcomes inquiries from interested dog owners. She can be reached at the school at 860-824-5149 or at home at 860-824-1437.

For more information on the Delta Society, go to deltasociety.org.

 

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