Therapy dogs teach reading and agility


By Aila Boyd - [email protected]



Marissa Nixon puts River through some obstacle course paces during Thursday’s dog agility program at the Charles H. Stone Memorial Library in Pilot Mountain.


Aila Boyd

Anne Standen, left, with her dog Lahr along with a couple of the local children attending Thursday’s dog agility program at the Charles H. Stone Memorial Library in Pilot Mountain.


Aila Boyd

PILOT MOUNTAIN — At the Charles H. Stone Memorial Library, the “dog days” of summer have already started.

Some kids might not be overly excited about the concept of visiting the library during the summer, but with the help of Anne Standen and her two furry helpers, the library here is a popular destination during the hot months, especially among preschooler and elementary kids.

Standen, accompanied by her 12-year-old female Vizsla named River and 6-year-old male poodle named Lahr, led a dog agility event Thursday morning in the community room of the library. The agility event consisted of a five-part obstacle course, doggie bowling, skateboarding, musical instruments and a recycling demonstration.

The event provided the 16 children in attendance an exciting mix of informative segments and eye-catching tricks. Despite the fact that poodles were originally breed to be circus dogs, as Standen explained to the children, Lahr was hesitant to jump onto the skateboard, unlike River who appeared to be fearless.

Marissa Nixon, 8, assisted Standen in working with River and Lahr. Marissa regularly attends the Wednesday afternoon one-on-one reading sessions.

“Through the program, you can see her confidence grow,” Diane Blakemore, program assistant at the library, said of Marissa’s participation in the program.

Standen noted that both dogs work for treats and praise, adding that the treats are actually baby Goldfish, treats that she likes to munch on from time to time as well.

Both dogs have a background working as therapy pets, with River having retired from therapy work after spending eight years going back and forth between Galax Elementary School in Virginia and the Derick L. Davis Cancer Center in Winston-Salem.

“The kids love her and she just keeps wanting to come back,” Standen said of the fact that River regularly comes out of retirement to partake in activities at the library.

Lahr is still actively working as a therapy dog and wears a bright yellow tag to signify her work.

“They’re bomb-proof; they can go anywhere and do anything,” Standen said of the dogs’ easy-going attitudes.

Lahr’s story is especially poignant, Standen said, having originally adopted Lahr as a rescue dog with a broken jaw.

In addition to their 10 a.m. preschool show, Standen, River and Lahr performed for a group of elementary kids at 3 p.m. the same day.

“Today’s program was to encourage students to learn about animal husbandry, to remind the kids that dogs are in need of fresh air and exercise over the summer just like they are, and also to teach them the proper way to interact with dogs they might encounter throughout the community,” Branch Liberian Anna Nichols said.

Following the presentation, Standen provided each child with a pencil that read “puppy love.”

Aside from informative shows, Standen and her dogs partake in a reading to dogs program at the library in which children who are learning to read can read one-on-one with the dogs for a period of 20 minutes at a time in what Blakemore describes as a judgment-free zone.

“Kids are begging to read and that’s amazing, some of them have never read before at the library, they would always just play on the computers and now they’re begging to read,” Blakemore noted of the success of the program.

Normally after the child that is partaking in the one-on-one reading session is finished, River and Lahr will perform a few tricks for them as a reward for their reading efforts. In addition to being attentive listeners, the dogs are there for the kids to pet while they’re reading, which provides a calming affect, Standen said.

“It’s really intimidating for some kids to read out loud in a classroom and it’s a different experience to just read to yourself, so reading out loud to River and Lahr seems to help them grow in their reading abilities,” Standen noted.

The proof is in the pudding, Standen said, as children are able to go up as high as three reading levels while participating in the reading to dogs program, citing Galax Elementary School as a prime example.

Suzette Marion brought her great-niece, 22-month-old Kennedy Pettitt, to the event and was impressed by the presentation.

“I think pets are such a warm and fuzzy addition to a child’s environment, they provide unconditional love the way kids do,” Marion said.

Upcoming 10 a.m. preschool programming that the library has to offer includes:

-Speed Tracks on July 14

-The Race is On! – Minute to Win It Games on July 21

-Ready, Set, Create! On July 28

-Record-breaking Celebration on August 4

Upcoming 3 p.m. elementary programming that the library has to offer includes:

-Speed Tracks on July 14

-School of Hard Knox with Mickey Heath on July 21

-Ready, Set, Create! On July 28

-Record-breaking Celebration on Aug. 4

Marissa Nixon puts River through some obstacle course paces during Thursday’s dog agility program at the Charles H. Stone Memorial Library in Pilot Mountain.
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_therapy-dog-1.jpgMarissa Nixon puts River through some obstacle course paces during Thursday’s dog agility program at the Charles H. Stone Memorial Library in Pilot Mountain. Aila Boyd

Anne Standen, left, with her dog Lahr along with a couple of the local children attending Thursday’s dog agility program at the Charles H. Stone Memorial Library in Pilot Mountain.
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_therapy-dog-2.jpgAnne Standen, left, with her dog Lahr along with a couple of the local children attending Thursday’s dog agility program at the Charles H. Stone Memorial Library in Pilot Mountain. Aila Boyd

By Aila Boyd

[email protected]

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