For some kids, reading out loud can be nerve-racking. But reading to a furry, four-legged friend can make it easier.
Lucy, a Golden Retriever, regularly listens to stories read by students at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School in Soldotna.
“It’s a lot easier to read to a dog than a person,” said Katie Moon, Lucy’s owner.
On May 20 fourth graders and kindergartners paired up with a stack of books and sat on the hill in the back of the school. As the students read in pairs, Lucy and Moon went from group to group listening to the kids.
Kindergarten teacher April Kaufman said one of the goals with younger students is to develop a love for reading. Having a captive audience helps to achieve that.
Lucy began visiting intensive needs students at the school with Moon this school year. One boy in the group was scared of Lucy at first, but now he will pet her and give her a cookie, Moon said.
“That was a big thing for me, for him to be comfortable with (Lucy),” Moon said.
Last December, Lucy became a certified therapy animal through Pet Partners. She passed a series of tests, which included responding appropriately to someone who is aggressive and having patience with people who hug tightly. With her certification, the opportunity to help more kids opened up to Lucy.
Lucy is calm around children, Moon said, and she didn’t train her to be that way; it comes naturally.
When Lucy began visiting the fourth and kindergarten classrooms after getting her certification, Moon said she had to get used to lying down and being quiet more.
Lucy listens to the kids read in small groups of no more than five students.
Along with getting certified to visit more classes, parents of students in the class as well as the school principal and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District had to give permission for Lucy to visit.
Moon said one of the biggest concerns with dogs visiting classes is allergies. Moon is actually slightly allergic to dogs, but said she couldn’t live without one.
The students who Lucy visited this year also got to watch her run an agility course on Tuesday. Moon said she’s been training Lucy, who is almost 4 years old, to run courses since she was 6 weeks old.
“She loves it,” Moon said. “She’s a completely different dog.”
When Lucy is listening to the students, she wears a harness and knows she’s at work, Moon said. But when the harness comes off, she knows she can play.
Moon said training Lucy to run courses was more difficult than working with her to become a therapy dog. With agility, Lucy becomes excited and her “mind goes out the window,” Moon said.
“Therapy is instinct,” Moon said.