As I have shared with you before our chocolate lab, Maya, is certified as a therapy dog. What this means is that through the auspices of Therapy Dog International, TDI, we can offer our volunteer services to places like schools, hospices, and nursing homes. For the last two years Maya and I have been volunteering at a public school as part of a reading program for second graders. It has been found that having children read out loud to canine companions increases their self-confidence, interest in reading, and overall reading skills.
Maya and I attend the school once a week. Before leaving the house I tie a red service bandana on Maya that sends her into a frenzy of joy because she is anticipating where we are going. Once we arrive we check in at the office where Maya is greeted by the staff. We then walk down the hallway to our classroom with Maya prancing, tail high, and budding curiosity making her turn her head to peek into classrooms we pass along the way. I love to see teachers’ and children’s faces light up when they see Maya and often they stop to pet her. We quietly enter our classroom, wave hello, and make our way to our special reading spot. Although we try not to disrupt the class, we still hear little voices whispering “Hi Maya”. The children start arriving according to the schedule. Maya greets each child, sometimes a group of children, and settles down to story time. Although Maya is friendly with all of the children I have noticed in the two years that we have been volunteering that Maya has her absolute favorites. When these favorite children show up, Maya can barely contain her excitement. After the greetings the child and Maya snuggle up against each other and begin the reading. Once our task is done we try to leave quietly, but undoubtedly we hear the children’s goodbyes as we leave the classroom.
At the end of the school year the teacher holds a goodbye party for us. The children love this because they all get to be up close to Maya even the ones that did not participate in the reading program. Maya loves it because she gets attention from everyone including the teacher. This year the children wrote Maya thank you letters. One letter stood out in particular because the little girl handed it to me two weeks before the goodbye party and because I never expected this kind of feedback from this little girl. In many ways she appeared disinterested in Maya during our reading exercises. But after reading the letter, I think that Maya meant more to her than she let on. When I read this letter it confirms to me how special Maya is and how she is making a difference with these children.