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Dogs Virtual Connection

May 27, 2020

St. John’s Ambulance has kept aspects of its therapy dog program running here in London by going virtual.

The ‘Dog Tales’ program was created to support struggling readers aged 7-12 years old, says Jenny Hauser, a coordinator with the program.

The goal of ‘Dog Tales’ is to improve children’s skills by having them read their favourite books to trained four-legged professionals, like Charlie (a 12-year-old cockapoo) and Kalie (a 12-year-old beagle).

The London Public Library’s Sherwood Forest branch is among the library locations that usually hosts and facilitates the reading program when St. John’s Ambulance brings the “paw-pular” dogs to lend an ear.

But due to COVID-19, the library was forced to close its doors and the program volunteers and staff had to find another way to connect with kids.

The program is now offering 15-minute video conferencing sessions to young readers over the Zoom app.

“Dogs just make people feel better..they’re a catalyst for connection,” says Hauser. “Even just looking at them, great things happen.”

Hauser says the program is a success because it creates a “serene and lovely atmosphere” for shy and reluctant readers to boost their confidence in literacy.

Spencer Garrod, who is seven years old, signed up with the program in Nov. 2019.

“The first day I signed up with Dog Tales I had Charlie, and the second time I had Kalie.”

Garrod says, on a scale of one to 10 for excitement, he is at a full 10 when he gets to talk to his furry friends.

Garrod likes to read books like, ‘No, David,’ written by David Shannon, and usually reads up to three books to Charlie or Kalie at each session.

“Sometimes I love them. Sometimes I don’t,” says Garrod, “I don’t like them when they bark, but I like them when they don’t bark.”

The owner of Charlie the cockapoo, Kris Tucker, has been a volunteer with the Therapy Dog Program since 2014.

“(Charlie) loves car rides, Timbits, and visiting with kids…he loves listening to them,” says Tucker.

“Children love animals, children love dogs, the dogs are gentle and they don’t correct or critique them they just listen gently.”

Hauser says the volunteers are asked to sit with the dogs quietly and to be available for any questions that the readers may ask.

The dogs have all been chosen specifically for the program and have been trained. Usually Dog Tales would happen at local libraries once a month.

The program varies across Canada based on community need and the availability of volunteers.

Therapy dogs also routinely offer comfort and companionship in senior residences and care facilities.

In hospitals, they may be providing relief and distraction for patients awaiting cancer treatments.

Hauser says she is hoping to bring more connection to the community by facilitating video chats at senior homes and hospitals.

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