AUGUST 26TH 2016 is National Dog Day. It feels very fitting, then, to publish a video about such an amazing topic: the Reading Buddies Program at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
When Cynthia Hinckley first started working with therapy dogs, she experienced a lot of resistance from others. In 1992, she began to bring her English Setter, Beatrice, around to nursing homes and hospitals, proving day by day that therapy dogs are beneficial to anyone and everyone who is open to them. Cynthia founded Bright Spot Therapy Dogs in 2004, after Beatrice's passing; she had realized just how many lives that they had touched, and knew that the work had to continue.Bright Spot's teams now extend throughout all of New England, and as far as healthcare is concerned, they make visits to patients in psychiatric facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, Alzheimer’s units, and hospice care. "There's not a type of healthcare facility that doesn't want us," she explains.
The field of education was a bit more difficult to break into: liability becomes an issue when young kids are involved, and people tend to get nervous about dog bites. Though a few schools are starting to embrace it--Harvard Med and Yale Law both have resident therapy dogs in their libraries!--there is certainly some lingering hesitation.
Thankfully, people like Courtney Waring are around to help prove the importance of bringing therapy dogs into education programs. Courtney is the Carle Museum's Director of Education, and she helped to integrate the popular Reading Buddies program into the museum's cycle of events. The Carle's website describes the program as a place where children from ages four to eleven can sit down with these dogs, "who provide a gentle, comforting listener to readers as they practice their fluency and strengthen their confidence in reading."
The program has become so popular that they've needed to start taking reservations: each child gets a 15 minute time block to read their favorite books to supportive listeners.
Reading Buddies at the Carle runs weekly over the summer, and during school vacation weeks throughout the rest of the year.
I was also fortunate enough to talk to Michelle Karb, the Trainer for Bright Spot, who explained what the therapy dog training process is like, and how working with the dogs in schools has made a significant impact on both her and her students.