Four-legged friends helping people read

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Dogs are not known for their literary prowess, but it turns out they are great at helping people read, Outreach Therapy Pets Programme team leader, Janine Taylor says.

“The whole idea is to read in a non-judgemental environment,” she said.

Reading to Dogs, now being offered at Wanaka Library, increased self-esteem and confidence, Mrs Taylor said.

relax; they just sit and they will practise their reading and they will often pet the dog at the same time.”

Reading to Dogs was a free programme run jointly by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and St John New Zealand, Mrs Taylor said.

“We’ve had some wonderful things happen, particularly in the school side.

“We’ve had selective mutes that don’t speak in school but will actually speak and read out loud to the dog.

“We’ve had children who’ve got behavioural problems and the staff have commented it’s been the most relaxed the children have been because they’re with the dogs.

“They relax and transform their behaviour, so it’s pretty special,” Mrs Taylor said.

The programme was being offered at Wanaka Primary school and Holy Family School, and would be available at Hawea Flat Primary School soon, Mrs Taylor said.

Children from Mount Aspiring College could also join if the wanted to, she said.

“As a result of hearing about the programme in the schools, the library has asked to be involved as well,” Mrs Taylor said.

“It gives an opportunity for children perhaps who have moved on to Mount Aspiring College, they can join in if they want to.”

The library programme also enabled children to participate outside school, Mrs Taylor said.

“It’s all a free service. We are all volunteers that run the service.”

St John and the SPCA covered the cost of the service; the volunteers were all police checked and the dogs were also taken through a formal assessment procedure to make sure they had the right temperament, Mrs Taylor said.

Another part of the service was visiting the elderly as a social visit.

“A lot of the staff have commented that they see residents smile when they don’t normally smile, and they will open up and talk about things which they don’t normally do, so it’s been really nice to see that.”

The Outreach Therapy Pets Programme had also been useful in rehabilitation, using animal-assisted therapy, Mrs Taylor said.

Other animals, including cats, could also be part of the therapy, but that was less likely, Mrs Taylor said.

“We’ve been a pilot programme in Wanaka until fairly recently, so we limited it to dogs.”

“Predominantly for the reading side it is mainly dogs, and some cats, but my cat would fail the assessment,” Mrs Taylor said, with a laugh.