"Sit. Stay. Listen."
"Sit. Stay. Listen."
What's got four legs, a furry coat and a listening ear? Stella, the newest addition to the Child Development Program at Washington State University Vancouver.
Story and photographs by Laura Evancich
Every thursday morning, cdp kindergarteners practice their reading skills with a special friend. Stella, a 2-year-old Norwich terrier, listens patiently as the children take turns reading aloud to her. Reading sessions with Stella help the kids develop their language and communication skills by giving them an unbiased, affectionate, unconditionally supportive—and furry—friend to practice reading with.
certified to comfort
Stella’s owner and handler, Krista Anderson, trained and certified her pup through Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer organization that provides testing and certification of dogs for visits to nursing homes, schools, hospitals and other institutions where therapy—also known as comfort—dogs are needed.
One experience in particular inspired Anderson to volunteer with TDI. With her 6-month-old pup in tow, Anderson made regular visits to an ailing friend in hospice. Given just days to live, her friend took great comfort in hours-long cuddles with Stella and looked forward to future visits. Against the odds, Anderson’s friend lived four months longer than expected—later passing away from a different ailment.
After seeing firsthand how much comfort a canine companion could bring, Anderson knew she wanted to get herself and Stella involved with a therapy dog program. The duo now makes regular visits to the CDP, Battle Ground Library, Three Creeks Library, Woodland Primary School and local hospices.
a listening ear
The benefits of Stella’s visits are many. Three children with dog phobias have warmed to Stella and are often the first to volunteer to read to their guest. Anderson has seen these kids go from not wanting to sit near Stella to plunking down right beside and petting her.
Their language skills are improving, too.
“Reading aloud to Stella builds their confidence and self-esteem,” said CDP program coordinator Cheryl Johnson. “Reading to a dog is without risk; the dog doesn’t talk back or criticize you if you make a mistake.”
The kids often take their time sounding out words properly, knowing their audience—a patient, silent dog—will wait for them.
“They are selective about which stories they’ll read aloud,” Johnson said, noting that some will bypass stories about cats in case it would upset their canine pal.
“The children often ask me, ‘How long did it take you to teach Stella how to read?’” Anderson laughed. “They think of her as a peer.”
Stella recently celebrated her second birthday with her kindergarten friends. The kids gave their friend a gift and, in turn, got special bookmarks to note the day.
“Stella’s visit is the highlight of the week,” said Johnson. “She’s become a part of our community.”
To learn more about Therapy Dogs International, visit tdi-dog.org or call (973) 252-9800.
This article appears in the Spring 2013 issue of NW Crimson & Gray Magazine.
NW Crimson & Gray magazine is a quarterly magazine produced by Washington State University Vancouver that highlights the WSU Vancouver community and higher education in SW Washington. Subscribe for free or download the issue online.