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AME readers bond with therapy dogs

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Carol Cary of Anna Maria watches AME second-grader Evan Christenson read to her poodle, Lucy, in the school’s media center. The school partners with Therapy Dogs Inc., to help children read with ease.

Second-grader Kiera Johnston reads to golden Labrador retriever, Daisy, as encouraged by Shirley Jaffee of Longboat Key, in the Anna Maria Island Elementary media center, 4700 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Volunteers from Therapy Dogs Inc. give their time and dogs to the school program on Monday mornings. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

Alice Gross of Bradenton and Champ listen to reader Laila Singer in the Therapy Dogs program at AME, 4700 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

“Dogs make everyone feel good,” said Anna Maria Island Elementary School media specialist Lynne McDonough.

        And for the past four years on Monday mornings in AME’s media center, the school’s partnership with Therapy Dogs Inc. — including poodles, golden Labrador retrievers, mixed-breeds and others — has resulted in happy students and teachers.

        “I can’t wait to come in on Mondays,” McDonough said, adding that the second-semester program is open to all grades, depending on teacher and student needs.

        Before students stream into the media center to read Jan. 28, Alice Gross of Bradenton explains there are one- and three-day courses for handlers and their dogs, and tests required for dog obedience and temperament before TDI registers a new team.

        Then, books in hand, second-graders met five dogs and their handlers last week at the media center. Students either bee-lined to the nearest corner where a dog and owner awaited, or waited on-deck for the next available dog/handler team.

        Eventually the students all settled in and read aloud, stopping from time to time to pet, smile and rub their new canine friend.

        Therapy Dogs is a company that provides registration, support and insurance for more than 12,000 handler/dog teams who are involved in volunteer animal-assisted activities, including schools, hospitals and nursing homes, according to its website.

        For registration as a TDI dog/handler team, dogs must be at least 1-year-old, in good health with proper vaccines, groomed, mannered around other dogs and attentive to their handlers. Dogs must allow strangers to touch them all over, walk on a leash without pulling, not mind strange noises or smells, be calm enough for petting and not afraid of people who walk unsteadily, according to TDI’s website.

        Judging from smiles all around, the pups that visit AME regularly received good marks from students, teachers and their handlers.

        Gross said the handlers/dog teams who volunteer at AME also visit Palma Sola schools, Blake Medical Center and Emeritus in Bradenton.

        “This is his job,” she added, looking proudly at Champ. “I’m just his chauffer.”

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