10 things we love about Sit Stay Read

About a year ago, I got the chance to sit down with a woman who was the director of a small dog therapy organization on the east coast. She had observed Maisie and I from afar, and when we met she confirmed that Maisie had the temperament for therapy work. She was especially impressed when she saw Maisie’s non-reaction to three small French Bulldogs that lunged at both of us while barking like maniacs. We were both startled, but Maisie stayed right by my side and kept walking as I guided the two of us around them.

She encouraged me to look into smaller groups in addition to the well known large groups. I was interested in working with children. When my kids were in grade school, I enjoyed volunteering in their classrooms. I also used to teach swimming lessons to 3 to 6 year olds at our local YMCA, and I missed being around kids that age. I found a list of therapy dog organizations on the AKC website and noticed Sit Stay Read located in Chicago. After reading about their goal to improve reading and literacy skills for Chicago Public School students, it appeared to be the perfect match for Maisie and me.

I attended two different training sessions to learn more about what we would be doing. When I felt like Maisie was ready, I scheduled her temperament test with their evaluator and was thrilled when she passed. I was required to do three different observations and then I brought Maisie to a school session for our final step. We entered the classroom as one of the dog teams and were observed by the dog team evaluator. She watched us both as we interacted with the students and advised us when we needed it. At the end of the hour, she happily welcomed us to the program!

We just finished our first six week session in one classroom and are in the middle of a session in another classroom. Each week, Maisie is more and more comfortable with the routine and she continues to impress me with her ability to bond with the kids. We will be in new classrooms after spring break and I’m so excited to get to know a new group of kids!

  1. A specific curriculum has been developed for each grade by a Program Advisory Committee that utilizes dog themed books and materials. You can read more about each grade level here.
  2. The first day of each session is dedicated to dog safety. The children learn about how to approach a dog, ask permission, let the dog sniff their hand and where the best place is to pet a dog. They also learn about the signals a dog may send to them. Student volunteers act out dog body language in different situations which is a lot more memorable than simply being told what to watch for.
  3. A program leader is always present to manage the classroom and introduce all of the volunteers. We have a pre-program meeting to go over the readings of the day and also the dog team question. We answer a new question each week that relates to the readings. For example, it might be describing a certain characteristic using rhyming, similes or alliteration. The program leader makes sure everything is running smoothly and jumps in wherever needed. They also read a few of the students’ stories or poems out loud and lead the Sit Stay Read keep reading cheer before we leave.
  4. At the end of each session, each student receives a bound collection of their stories or poems that they can keep as a souvenir.
  5. At the end of the school year, each participating school has a Keep Reading Celebration. The kids get to visit with a dog team one more time and they each receive a Summer Reading Fun Pack. The packs include pencils, erasers, crayons, a design-it-yourself notebook and an assortment of books. In 2017-2018 each student received SIX brand new books for all age groups for themselves and to read to their siblings!
  1. Belly rubs and treats!
  2. The smiles on all of the kids faces when Maisie and I walk in the room and spread out her blanket.
  3. When the kids settle in and relax next to her while they are reading the books and their poems.
  4. She loves wearing her bandana, it means she’s going to see the kids.
  5. She knows when to give a little extra loving to the kids that are completely at ease with her.

If you live in the Chicago area and would like to learn more about volunteering with Sit Stay Read as a dog team or a reading buddy click here.

We are a Therapy dog Team!

Last week, Maisie and I became a certified therapy dog team and what a long and bumpy road we have taken to get here!

A little over two years ago, I received some heartbreaking news about one of my oldest and dearest friends. I felt so helpless at the time and wished that there was something I could do.

A few weeks later, I looked at Maisie and realized that I did have access to a unique skill that could be helpful to others. I did a little research and decided that Maisie and I would start training to become a therapy dog team.

What is a therapy dog? Therapy dogs are specially trained to provide comfort and love to people in hospitals, nursing homes, rehab centers, schools, hospice and other similar facilities. They have also been used in response to natural disasters to comfort those that have been affected. Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are trained to aid a specific person with a disability and are legally protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to accompany their owner wherever they go in their daily routine. Therapy dogs have special permission to enter a facility with their handler to perform their task, but when they are not working they must abide by all rules and laws concerning animals in public places. It is unethical for a therapy dog team to assume the rights and protections of a service dog and their handler.

These are the steps of the process we took to reach our goal:

  • Know your dog’s temperament: Are they suited to meeting people in unfamiliar, loud or chaotic environments? Are they easily spooked by sudden movements or loud noises? Are they able to adapt quickly to new situations?
  • Find a training facility or trainer to learn and reinforce all of the behaviors included in the Canine Good Citizen test. You can learn more about Canine Good Citizen here.
  • Continue with higher level training for behaviors expected from a therapy dog. These include: distraction training, ability to ignore other dogs, lack of reaction to loud noises, wheelchairs, strollers, crutches and chaotic environments. A therapy dog must not jump or rush toward someone when meeting them. They must be gentle and able to take a treat from someone without using their teeth. They need to be able to stay in an extended sit or down until they are given a release command. Basically, they need to be completely unaffected by everything around them and able to give affection without overwhelming the recipient. You can learn more about AKC Therapy Dog here.
  • Research therapy dog organizations and find the one that is the right fit for you and your dog. It is important to be certified with a therapy dog organization. They provide training, support and education to the dog teams. The organization is the primary contact between the facility requesting the visit and the dog team. Each dog team is objectively evaluated (the dog as well as the handler) to ensure that they are qualified to do the work. Finally, they provide liability insurance for each dog team while they are volunteering. Things to consider during your research include, what type of work do you want to do? How far are you willing to travel? What type of support can you expect from the organization? Feel free to reach out and talk about your questions and what is expected from the dog teams that they certify. Be familiar with the specific steps for you to take to become certified with them i.e. their own classes, observations and evaluations.
  • Once you and your dog are ready, fulfill the requirements of the organization you have chosen and start volunteering!

Our first step was to enroll in a training class to get her ready to take the Canine Good Citizen test.

Canine Good Citizen is a title earned from the American Kennel Club (AKC). I found a training facility nearby that had CGC evaluators as part of their training staff. They were able to help us train to all of the different requirements of the test and we wouldn’t have to go elsewhere when we were ready to be evaluated.

Maisie has always been a very easy dog. As a puppy, I was able to quickly train her to basic commands and she has always walked beautifully on her leash. Unfortunately for her, she was so easy that I never enrolled in a training class. As a result, she was under the impression that whenever we were around other dogs, they should all be her friend and playmate. Our biggest and most difficult training challenge was to teach her to ignore other dogs and focus completely on me. It took longer than I expected, we had to take a few breaks in her training (a couple of family emergencies and bringing home a puppy who also needed to be trained) but once she passed the CGC, we moved into the therapy dog class.


The training facility that we went to worked closely with Canine Therapy Corps. The trainers were familiar with their test and expectations. I read about their work but I also wanted to check out the other organizations in my area so that I could be sure about my choice. Whenever possible, I talked to people that also did therapy work with their dogs, getting their advice, and learning from their experiences with different organizations. The AKC website has a lot of information about therapy dogs which includes a nationwide list of organizations. (You can read the list here.) I scrolled through the list, noting the ones that I had already looked into and noticed one in Illinois I hadn’t heard of. When I clicked on their link, everything I read about them was exactly what I was looking for. That’s how I found Sit Stay Read.

Sit Stay Read is an amazing organization of people dedicated to improving reading and literacy skills for children enrolled in Chicago Public Schools. My next post is about my experience with them.


Close but no cigar

I have this memory of one of my favorite teachers walking up and down the aisles in our classroom muttering “close but no cigar, close but no cigar, close but no cigar”.

As she passed out the pop quiz that she had given us the day before, I noticed more and more confused faces looking around the room. I knew something was off when she approached my desk, looked me in the eye and stated “close but no cigar”. I looked down at my quiz, took in a couple of correction marks and read the blaring red letters across the top of the page: close but no cigar.

That’s how she chose to grade that quiz. None of us had any idea how this would be translated in the grade book. There were more than a few stressful looks on the over-achievers that surrounded me in that room!

We were second semester seniors with six weeks left of school. This was her way of giving us all a kick in the butt and letting us know there would be no slacking off in her class. We were hers until the first week of May, and we still had Classic American Literature to focus on before we walked across a grand stage and got our diplomas.

Last weekend, I stood on one side of an obedience ring while Winn waited for me on the other. I put on a smile and gave her my very best, upbeat command to come to me.

She sat upright, eyes glued to me, waiting for my signal.

She stayed there, upright, eyes glued to me, not coming on my signal.

We watched each other for too long and then I had to give her one more command.

She proudly ran to me, stopped perfectly in front of me and gave me her prettiest sit. Then she waited for my next signal.

When she saw me wave my right hand, she ran behind me and sat in position on my left side. She looked up at me with her most loving expression.

I laughed under my breath and gave her a big hug when the judge said, “exercise finished”. That’s when I heard those words in my head. Close but no cigar.

We’ve got more work to do, she and I.

After receiving two qualifying scores the day before, I was overly confident as we entered the ring.

Winn was excited, our warm-up went really well. I had her attention and she was eager. Her performance of her off leash heeling was near perfect and the best it’s ever been. I was feeling so good, we were going to get her novice obedience title, Companion Dog!

And then she failed the recall….

You only get one try, and to be fair, I don’t think she heard me. She was positioned close to the judges table and there was a lot of conversation and ring noise behind her.

She was trying to block all of that out and give me her full focus, unfortunately, she just didn’t get my first command.

Her recall has never been something I had to worry about. Those are the things that always get you, the things you don’t worry about.

She performed the next excercises perfectly and then we were excused with an “I’m sorry, not today”.

So….we will keep training, keep working and keep trying. We’ve still got things learn and hopefully next time we won’t be “close but no cigar”.

First two legs down, one more to go!

The case of the missing dryer balls

I feel like I’ve been living in an episode of Scooby Doo.

Recently I started using wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. I’ve been trying to reduce the chemicals in my house and after researching laundry products, dryer balls were mentioned several times as a good alternative. They are also supposed to conserve energy by absorbing some of the moisture and reducing drying time.

I like using my supply of different essential oils to scent the balls before I throw them in with the load. They add a light fragrance and I can change them up depending on my mood.

The annoying part is that they fly around the room when I am pulling items out of the dryer and I have to chase them down to gather them up.

I’m still not sure if I like using them better than dryer sheets, but I’m trying to give them a fair trial.

When my son came home for Christmas break, I mentioned to him that I had made the switch. I asked him to please watch out for them and put them back in the glass storage jar after he had folded the load of towels that had been freshly washed for his bathroom.

That’s the last time I used all six dryer balls.

The next time I went into the laundry room, there were only three dryer balls to be found.

I knew they would disappear when the house filled up with holiday visitors! That’s why I mentioned them to my son before he went upstairs. I was also not surprised when he gave me his very best blank stare (that usually means he thinks my voice sounds like the teacher from Charley Brown) as he patiently waited for me to stop talking.

When I asked him about it, he said he didn’t touch them. He pulled out one towel and the blanket for his bed and left the rest in the dryer. What am I supposed to think? I used to have six balls and now I have three and I am really annoyed.

One ball was wedged between the washer and the wall, so now I have four. I searched around the room, looking through other piles of laundry. I even climbed on top of the washer and dryer to peek behind them and checked under the radiator.

They had vanished into thin air!

I glanced around the room across the hall, thinking maybe they had rolled away. Then I looked in my sons room, not trusting that they weren’t in there somewhere.

Several days later, when they still hadn’t shown up (and somehow I’m back down to three), I gave my best “Mom rant” about how things just seem to disappear when the kids come home and how I know they think I’m a crazy lady harping about dryer balls. I’m sure anyone reading this can just picture the blank expressions that I received along with very subtle mouth twitches as they made every attempt to not laugh in my face.

The only response I got was from my son who said, “Mom, I don’t have them. Ask Winn.”

Ask Winn? What the hell? Aside from the fact that Winn is like Mary Poppins in that she is practically perfect in every way, I couldn’t see how she could have anything to do with the missing balls. Did he think she ate them? (That’s actually not a crazy thought.)

Two weeks later, I was folding a load of laundry and now there are only two balls in the dryer. OMG WHAT IS GOING ON!!!

I can’t blame the children because they’ve both returned to their respective homes and I’m completely frustrated. Once again, I scrambled around the laundry room looking under, over and behind every nook and cranny. I searched every room in the house, under beds, couches, radiators. Then I went into my own room and looked under my bed.

Holy s**t!

There was a sea of balls of all sizes under there!

I grabbed the vacuum wand, sprawled out on the floor on my stomach and started sweeping my arm back and forth. Balls went shooting out from under the bed in all directions.

In addition to a vast assortment of balls of all sizes, there were three dryer balls!

Apparently, I’m the only one who puts the balls back in the glass jar after I’ve used them. Other people (ahem) in my house just leave them in the dryer, with the door open, until a new load is thrown in.

It appears that Winn has discovered this seemingly endless supply of soft, cushy balls. She has a had a grand time flinging them around, mostly in my room. (I guess she’s not as much like Mary Poppins as I would like to think.)

So……I owe my children an apology. (What better way than putting it into a blog post.) I also need to keep the dryer balls out of Winn’s reach.

I’m still looking for one more dryer ball but five balls work way better than just two so I’m happy for the time being.

Our year in pictures

January: Annie, Winn’s first Rally title, fun times in the snow, training and Winn’s Canine Good Citizen title.

February: Snow!! Hearst Castle and indoor swimming.

March: St. Patrick’s Day, a VERY tiring grooming seminar and chasing chickens.

April: Kansas City with Maisie.

May: Newfoundland National Specialty, meeting new friends and attending a water training workshop with our Canadian buddies.

June: celebrating Maisie turning 5 and Winn turning 1 on our newly designated Annual Dog Birthday in honor of Annie, more ribbons for Winn and Therapy Dog training with Maisie.

July: 4th of July and water training with our friends.

August: Lots and lots of training fun and our very first Newfoundland Water Test (we didn’t do very well, but it was a great experience).

September: Studying hard for our final water test, which was our most successful and a great way to end the summer.

October: October baseball and Halloween, Maisie and I began our quest to find all of the murals in town.

November: Thanksgiving, playing in the leaves and frolicking in the first snowfall of the season.

December: The most wonderful time of the year!

a shared life with our very large dogs

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