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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Booker T. Washington students find reading buddies through Love on a Leash program

(Photos from Fayette County Public Schools)


By Tammy Lane
Special to KyForward

Children at Booker T. Washington Academy have found new reading buddies through Love on a Leash, which brings docile dogs into their school about once a month to listen to their stories.

The nonprofit made up of pet owners reaches out into the community through schools, hospitals, nursing homes, parades and other events with a simple goal: to provide emotional support and brighten someone’s day.

Billy Fryer, who already volunteers as a mentor at Booker T. Washington along with colleagues from the Fayette County Attorneys’ Office, pitched Love on a Leash to school social worker Shericka Smith.

“We have a lot of students who lack confidence in reading out loud. The dogs aren’t going to correct you or laugh if you make a mistake. We are so excited to begin this program and know that it will help kids build their confidence,” Smith said. “It’s another good way to get volunteers into the building to see what’s going on,” she added.

Fryer and three other pet owners in the Bluegrass of Kentucky Chapter recently spent an hour connecting with kids as fourth-graders rotated through the library. They offered help with the tough words if asked, but mostly allowed the students to go at their own pace and interact with the animals. Fryer’s dog Jack was particularly friendly, nuzzling the kids’ faces and laying his head in their laps.

“The next thing you know, you’ve got a kid having fun reading,” Fryer noted.

The dogs were spaced out in the four corners of the room to avoid distractions. Individually or in pairs, the children settled in to read aloud for a few minutes – some even holding up their book so the dog could see the pictures.

“It’s something comforting for the kids. For those more shy in class, it gives them a little more confidence,” said teacher Hallie Piatt, whose students were excited to be the first to participate.

Smith, who was pleased with the initial outing, plans to invite a different class every month so the entire school will be involved.

Bonnie Cessna, president of the Bluegrass of Kentucky Chapter, noted their member dogs are AKC-certified as Canine Good Citizens and also receive therapy dog training. This chapter, which started in July, currently has about 14 dogs. Those best suited for Love on a Leash have a calm temperament and are good with people and sociable with other animals.

When the pet owners arrived at Booker T. Washington Academy, their four dogs met in the parking lot without incident and behaved well in the library. The quiet atmosphere was conducive for students – some of whom were nervous around dogs – to relax and read without fear of ridicule.

“There’s no judgment. They feel free to read and can stumble over words and it’s OK – the dog doesn’t care,” Cessna said. “The dog puts a big smile on their face, and they leave with a smile.”

Tammy Lane is a writer for Fayette County Public Schools



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