An Unusual Reading Partner
Nancy and Joe Stoner came into the Mobile East Booth in Wilmington, NC to talk about their work with Carolina Canines, an organization that trains dogs and their owners to volunteer in the community. Nancy and Joe have trained four therapy dogs in the last ten years. Throughout their conversation, Nancy and Joe’s love for their dogs and passion for their work filled the Booth.
In addition to taking their dogs into hospitals and hospice centers, Nancy and Joe have been active in the Paws for Reading program. The second graders that Nancy and Joe work with are called out of regular classes to spend special time in the school library, where they read out loud-not to a teacher or school librarian, but to a dog!
Often students who hadn’t been interested in reading would start taking books home to read to their pets. If they didn’t have a dog at home, they might read to their goldfish.
Nancy remembered a particular instance when she realized that the implications of this program reached well beyond reading, on the day before Thanksgiving Break when a student was reluctant to come to his session in the library. Nancy spoke with his teacher and encouraged her to send him in anyway, saying that their dog, Bunker, would at least wish him a Happy Thanksgiving.
Nancy explains that when the boy entered the library, he walked directly to the dog, completely ignoring her, and began to cry uncontrollably. Nancy asked, “Bunker wants to know why you’re so sad.” The boy responded that he was supposed to go to his father’s house for Thanksgiving. “I don’t want to go to my Dad’s because he beats me and so does his girlfriend.” When Nancy and Joe reported the instance to the school and it was confirmed as a case of child abuse and the boy did not have to spend Thanksgiving with his father.
“He had been hurt by humans,” explained Nancy. “It was easier for him to relate to the dog and talk to the dog. I thought we were going just to help children become better readers. It changed my whole outlook that through a therapy dog, this boy’s life was changed.”
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