Reading to Rover

Does your child struggle with reading, especially out loud and in front of others? Does your child happen to love animals? One of my favorite organizations that I have volunteered with for over 20 years has brought back an event that can aid children who struggle with reading to gain positive experiences by reading to therapy dogs with the Visiting Pet Program.

The Visiting Pet Program is an all volunteer nonprofit that was founded in 1987 and provides animal assisted therapy to nursing homes, hospitals, and the MSY airport. I have personally volunteered with four of my dogs since 2001. To be accepted into the program, the dogs and their owners must go through a fairly thorough evaluation process, which includes an orientation, handling workshop, and an evaluation, which simulates a visit at a nursing home to see how the dog and handler react to various stressors in that environment. After that, probationary visits are conducted, as well as a contract to commit to at least one visit per month.

Earlier this fall, the East Bank Regional Library and the Visiting Pet Program brought back one of the most popular events the library hosts–Reading
to Rover.

Reading to Rover is a monthly event that is held at the East Bank Regional Library, on the third Saturday of each month from 1-2 p.m.  Children of any age may choose books to read to one of the special Reading to Rover dogs. At the last event, there were two golden retrievers, a greyhound, a Boston terrier (fully dressed in costume with a tutu), a terrier mix, and a boxer mix. Children eagerly wait their turn after signing up for the precious pup of their choice, read to the dog, and then are able to give their furry listener a dog treat. They also
receive a bone-shaped bookmark with the name of their
four-legged listener.

As a pediatric occupational therapist and animal lover, it is truly a magical experience to see these dogs at work. As soon as the child and dog settle in a cozy spot to read, the child appears to relax nearly instantaneously as the dog snuggles up to listen.

These specially-chosen Reading to Rover pups are definitely one of a kind, and have years experience participating in this event. These extraordinary pups are also the dogs who volunteer on Monday evenings, with their owners, visiting patients and their families at Children’s Hospital. Every Monday each month, there are two dog-and-handler teams assigned to walk the floors and go room to room at the Children’s Hospital from 6-7:30 p.m. One hopes to never have a child stay overnight at the Children’s Hospital, however, if that does occur, and it is a Monday, be sure to ask for a snuggle from one of these special dogs. It is a definite guarantee that you and your child will feel calmer and relaxed during their presence.

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