This spring, reading aloud is allowed at the Sardis Library when the St. John Ambulance’s four-legged, furry tutors stop by to help junior readers build their confidence.
“The Tail Waggin’ Tutors program is (also) called Paws for a Story,” said Sue Unwin, who directs the program for the local St. John Ambulance branch.
“And it’s been going for several years, but mostly in places like Abbotsford, Richmond, and Vancouver. But here in Chilliwack, it’s just beginning to take off.”
The program, which runs from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays from May 16 to Jun. 27, was designed for children who are six- to 12-years-old and may be struggling with their reading, or just want a calming presence to practice with.
“It’s really good for the kids to read to a dog,” Unwin continued. “They don’t feel any pressure, there’s no criticism. A dog will listen to whatever you’re going to say to it.”
But because the program involves young children, the therapy dogs involved have had to go through additional steps to ensure their temperaments.
“With the children’s program, they already had to have at least 10 hours of adult visiting,” said Janet Mahony, who volunteers for the program with her dog, Shaska.
“Then they go through another inspection with children present, and the distractions children can cause, to make sure the dogs don’t show any signs of fear or agitation.
“(The inspector) called the children’s dogs ‘bomb-proof’,” Mahony continued. “They’re the sort of dogs that don’t react to thunderstorms at home—they’re just very, very calm dogs in all circumstances.”
“Therapy dogs make people feel good!” added Cindy Read, whose volunteers with her dog Abi. “You can see the change it makes in people and it’s so rewarding.”
In the past year the number of therapy teams (dog and handler) in the area has grown from five to 25, but Unwin says there still aren’t enough dogs to go around as only five teams have been approved to work with children under 12.
“If you feel your dog is a real people pleaser, knows basic commands, and is quiet and gentle, and you would like to volunteer your time to make a big difference to children, or anybody really, this is a really, really good thing to get involved in.”
For more information, or to schedule a session, please contact the Sardis Library at (604) 858 – 5503.
For more information about the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program, please visit their website at www.SJA.ca.