Hayden Cole opened a book titled “Mr. Putter & Tabby Paint the Porch” and began to read aloud: “She had a bucket of pink paint, a big brush and some rags,” began the East Elementary second-grader.
At first, her listener fidgeted, but settled down and really began to pay attention when, in the book, a squirrel ran across the floor of the freshly painted porch and a dog named Zeke remembered how good he was at chasing them.
That could have been because Hayden’s listener herself was a four-legged squirrel chaser. Lucy the 10-month-old beagle mix was helping Hayden hone her reading skills, and Hayden was helping Lucy master her ability to be a good listener.
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Reading to pets
Source: PAWS for People, a pet therapy organization started by a retired public schools teacher
Lucy — whose mom is elementary intervention specialist Katie Huizenga — is being readied for training to be a reading therapy dog. She is enrolled in an advanced obedience class at Humane Society of West Michigan. After that, Huizenga plans to apply to enroll her with West Michigan Therapy Dogs.
“Lucy is very young right now, and needs more time to develop her skills,” Huizenga said.
So far, Lucy has visited East Elementary the one time, and Central Elementary twice. Plans are for visits to be every other month during the school year.
Sessions with Lucy are scheduled in 15-minute blocks. Some students are chosen to work with Lucy as an incentive to get them reading more, others as a reward for positive behavior. Each student is encouraged to select a book and practice reading it before their appointment with Lucy.
Huizenga also attends, and Lucy is leashed and lying on a blanket next to the student. She gets chewy rewards as incentive to pay close attention.
Huizenga’s regular work with East and Central students centers around improving reading skills.
“I can tell you the number of students who would like a time slot with her is endless,” she said. “It has made students having to leave class to join my small groups a very positive thing.”
West Michigan Therapy Dogs