Maya has a favorite ball. It’s an old soccer ball that once belonged to our children. We discovered many years ago that Maya loved playing fetch with this particular ball. The ball is now worn and deflated, but it is still Maya’s favorite. We store it in the garage in a bin on a shelf. Once in a while, Maya re-discovers her favorite ball and stands by it, whimpering until a human gets it for her. Maya is older and slower now but when she sees her favorite ball she is a puppy again. Her enthusiasm is infectious!
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.
At the end of the school year the teacher invites us to a goodbye party.
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.
We keep Maya’s toys neatly stored in a basket in the family room. But Maya always manages to bring her toys over to the foyer rug one at a time, until she has amassed a collection of toys proudly displayed in the foyer welcoming our guests and a few more scattered throughout the first floor. Pure mayhem! The foyer serves as a home base for Maya. We play a game of chasing her throughout the house, in which she always runs to the foyer, anticipates our arrival, protects a toy in her month, and relishes in our futile attempts of taking it away. We have trained Maya to do many things, but somehow we forgot how to teach her to pick up her toys. She is 7 years old now, not what I would consider an old dog, so I suppose I can still teach her a new trick. What would that sound like? “Maya, bring your toys to the basket!” “Maya, clean your room!” or “Maya, put your toys away!”. And of course, unlike human children who would probably answer back with some excuse or beg to do it later, Maya would just look at me with her beautiful brown eyes and wag her tail happily. And since her happiness is so infectious, I would probably just say, “oh who cares about the booby-trapped foyer rug, Maya you are way too cute, let’s go play.” Reminding me to have a little fun and to cherish our time together, even if it means tripping over toys.