As many of you know I volunteer with my Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya, at a school where 2nd graders read to her. Maya is certified as a Therapy Dog, through Therapy Dog International. She can visit schools, hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, or wherever they may need a therapy dog. The goal of the reading program is to help children improve their reading skills while increasing their confidence and love for reading. Over the years we have met children who are dog lovers, some who are adequately comfortable with dogs, and others who are downright scared of dogs. Maya establishes varying degrees of bonds with each child. Early in the school year, Maya even picks her “favorites”. She exhibits her favoritism through her varying displays of exuberance and affection to the different children. When there’s a “favorite” all Maya wants to do is sit as close as she can to the child. Maya and her best friend will curl up together to read while the child pets her, rests on her, rests her book on her, or simply snuggles her. Maya can also sense when a child is not comfortable with dogs. These children choose to sit away from Maya and Maya respects their wishes.
Rest assured that it is Maya’s mission to win over the hearts of ALL of her children, even the ones that are uneasy or afraid of her. There comes a time during the school year when Maya decides that it is time to win over that particular child. One day Maya will simply decide that she is no longer sitting three feet away from the child and will insist on sitting closer. Of course I’m always attentive to the child’s concerns. And so it was two weeks ago when Maya suddenly decided that she wanted to sit very close to Kathy (the name has been changed). Up until then, Kathy would join us and with great trepidation would sit as far away from Maya as she could, and Maya would oblige. But on this particular day, Maya insisted on sitting next to her friend as I unsuccessfully tried to steer her 80-pound frame away. I could see Kathy’s face of concern, and I explained to her, “Maya really likes you and she really wants to sit next to you”. I reassured her that Maya would not hurt her and with that Kathy allowed Maya to curl up right next to her. Within minutes, Maya had settled into her nap of contentment with Kathy holding her book in one hand while reading out loud, and probably without even noticing herself, she had reached over to gently pet Maya with her other hand.
Nothing makes us happier than to turn a child into a dog lover. I said to Kathy, “oh my goodness, I think someday you are going to own your own dog, maybe even two dogs!” Kathy looked up from her book and gave me a big beautiful smile.
Maya had accomplished her mission.