Boss, an 8 year-old English Cream Golden Retriever, visits the students during reading time.
Reading time at Temple Israel is a way for students to learn how to expand their communication and vocabulary skills.
Boss and Jo Anne Fusco, the owner, visit Jeff Massey’s kindergarten class every Friday during reading time to offer their assistance.
For the last 12 years, Boss and Fusco have been part of a therapy program called R.E.A.D. (Reading Educational Assistance Dogs).
“R.E.A.D. is the first program that utilizes therapy animals to help children improve their reading and communication skills and also teaches them to love books and reading,” Fusco said.
Lizzie Mintz, a student, said that she enjoys that he comes because she could read to him.
Many of the other students agreed with Lizzie but Blake Barden liked Boss coming to class for a different reason.
“I just like to sit by him while I read,” Blake said.
West Tennessee Therapy Dogs (WTTD) operates the R.E.A.D. program as a way to bring service animals to local students.
Fusco said the organization’s mission is to improve the literacy skills of children while using registered dogs as literacy mentors.
WTTD’s moto for the R.E.A.D. program is that reading to an animal is a powerful method.
The R.E.A.D. program has been growing since November 1999 when it was first launched in Salt Lake City, Utah. There are now thousands of registered R.E.A.D. teams in over 12 countries around the world.
The University of California held a study which showed how young students who read out loud to dogs improve their reading skills by 12 percent over the course of the 10-week program.
The researchers explained that students find the non-judgmental ears of a therapy og as the perfect choice to hone and improve their reading skills.
This has proven true with Boss and Fusco.
“The children love having Boss come to the classroom,” Massey said. “He is like part of the class.”
When Boss first walked in the room all the children were excited, jumped and ran to pet Boss.
“They have been asking and waiting to see Boss all day,” Massey said.
Fusco agreed that the children wait and anticipate Boss’s next visit.
“Boss is like an aura that comes into a room or building for a few minutes. This gives them a chance to touch something that is soft, clean and sweet,” Fusco said.
When it was time for Edie Newman and Lizzy Mintz, two of the students, to read, the other students brushed Boss’s hair as he took a nap. Fusco and Massey saw this as effective because the students were not focused on the mistakes that Edie and Lizzy were making or at the pace they were reading.
Once the girls finished, everyone including Boss had to leave they were sad. But they all knew that he would be back next Friday as they shouted “bye” to him and Fusco. Fusco was just happy to see the children happy.
“I’m so lucky that my dog is a great therapy dog because I get to witness it,” Fusco said. “I enjoy getting to go along for the ride.”