Maya Volunteering at an Elementary School
The teacher’s husband built this clever dog house for the children to read to the the volunteer dogs.
Maya, our wonderful six-year old chocolate Labrador retriever, is certified as a Therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International (TDI). Maya is smart and very friendly with all people and other dogs. What sets her apart is her extremely gentle, sweet, loving, and almost humble disposition.
In 2008 at age 1½ Maya passed the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizenship certification. THE GCC program rewards a dog for its good manners at home and in the community certifying that the dog understands basic obedience commands. My husband and I did all of Maya’s training. We had previously raised two yellow Labrador sisters and at the time we took a deep interest in dog training. In 2009, I started training Maya to take the Therapy Dogs International (TDI) certification test. TDI is a volunteer organization that regulates, tests, and registers therapy dogs and their handlers. Therapy dogs are used to provide comfort, friendship, and love to people in different types of facilities such as schools, universities, nursing homes, hospitals, and hospices. In turn, this exposure to therapy dogs has been shown to help patients with stress reduction and overall wellness. Therapy dogs can also help students with stress reduction and increase confidence and learning skills. The TDI certification test covers the basic obedience commands of the GCC but also includes several more advanced training requirements. Maya received her TDI certification in October of 2009. Once you receive the certification you must renew the registration and submit updated health records every year.
Soon after Maya’s certification my neighbor asked me if her children could spend time with Maya. Her son was very afraid of dogs and they were hoping to get a family dog. After several visits with Maya, my neighbor’s son’s comfort level with dogs grew enormously. Today, our neighbor owns two dogs.
Maya waits patiently outside of the teacher’s classroom until it’s our time to go in.
She also wonders what exciting things are going on down the hallway.
I kept hoping to find other volunteer assignments but we kept getting distracted. It was only after we returned to the US this year after living abroad that the opportunity to do official Therapy dog volunteer work presented itself. If a facility is interested in having a volunteer dog and handler visit them, they submit a request to Therapy Dogs International. In turn, TDI sends e:mails to its members who may be geographically close to the facility that has requested a therapy dog. I was very excited to be invited to work with a local elementary school with one of their teachers. In October, the 2nd grade teacher invited us to an initial “meet and greet” session with her whole class. The children were so excited to meet Maya. They asked me lots of questions about her. After the Q&A they descended upon Maya smothering her with hugs and love, making her a very happy dog. After the meet and greet several of the 2nd graders took turns reading to Maya. Children that participate in these doggie reading programs have shown an increase in confidence, self-esteem, and reading skills when they are reading to a “doggie friend”.
We have been going to the school for several weeks now. It has been a very rewarding experience for me to be able to share Maya and to help with the children’s reading skills as well. Maya of course is thrilled to attend these volunteer sessions.
Below are some photos of priceless moments that I have captured of Maya and her reading buddies. Maya chooses where to sit with each child and how to do her “listening”. It appears to me that sometimes her decisions are based on the child’s comfort level with her. Maya also loves the teacher. I bet if I dropped her off at school to visit all day she would be delighted. This is one of the attributes I love about Maya, that she can be happy with everyone and not just her owners. She is a true ambassador of love.
This little boy and Maya are best buds. They just can’t get close enough to each other. This particular morning, Maya started listening by his side. Soon she discovered that the small of his back was very comfy. The little boy kept reading. Notice her eyes are open here. Look at the next picture.
Maya is lulled to sleep by the gentle sound and vibration of his voice. So much for active listening.
This little girl is not comfortable with dogs. Maya sits a little further away. Part way through her reading she stretches her little hand and touches Maya’s paw. Notice the next picture.
Her comfort level with Maya goes up and the little hand reaches over to Maya’s head. Maya sits quietly and lets her do this.
This little boy likes Maya a lot as well. He was reading his book when Maya felt it was time for him to give her love and attention. Kind of hard to read with Maya’s big head covering the book. The boy and I laughed together.
This little guy is comfortable with dogs but does not make a big deal about Maya. But this particular day, she helped prop up the book. Seemed like the practical thing to do.
Here is another one of Maya’s best buds.
For more information on the AKC and it’s Good Canine Certification Program go to:
For more information on TDI go to:
To read more about children reading to dogs go to: