Tag Archives: Kids and dogs

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.

Mini road trip

Recently we loaded Maisie and Winn into the car and went on a quick road trip.  We were off to visit our daughter who lives about 3 hours away.

It’s pretty obvious that Maisie considers Abigail to be her favorite person on earth.  It is always so fun to see their reunions, and this time was no different.  Winn loves everybody and responded to Maisie’s energy by wiggling and squeaking while showering Abigail with kisses.  A two Newfie welcome can be a pretty overwhelming affair!

We all walked to a little brew pub for lunch and I was so impressed with Winn.  She walked calmly and confidently through crowds while staying in a perfect heel.  All of our training time really paid off!

We sat down at a big picnic table and our waitress brought a large water bowl for the girls.  Maisie loves to sit and watch the people walk by on the sidewalk, but Winn quietly settled right beside me, looked around a bit and ignored the other dog that was barking at us from a table near by.  Eventually she crawled under the table and rested her head so that she could see all of the other patio diners.IMG_4227IMG_4250We tend to get a lot of attention when we are out with the dogs, their size makes it impossible to remain unnoticed and most people haven’t seen a brown Newfoundland so we get a lot of questions about their breed.  This usually includes:  “What do they weigh?”, “How much do they eat?”,  “Do they come with a saddle?”, and my least favorite  “Do they shed?”.  Yes they shed, Newfoundlands shed!  Most dogs shed! There are a few breeds that don’t, but there seems to be an increased assumption that one should have a dog that doesn’t shed.

After lunch we walked back to her house, left the dogs with two of her friends and went to a movie. When we returned, we took the girls out again, stopped and got some ice cream and relaxed by the shores of a nearby lake.  As soon as we were close to the water, Maisie and Winn both wanted to wander in, but they stayed close by and immediately came when called when they strayed too far away.  I was so proud of both of them, they were so well-behaved!IMG_4247IMG_4245IMG_4236It was a lovely day spent with our daughter in the town that she loves and has decided to make her home.  It’s close enough that we headed back home as the sun was setting and Maisie and Winn slept the whole way after having such a fun-filled day of activity!IMG_4229


Life changes

Kids and dogs are markers of time.  I remember events by how big the kids were and which dog was with us at the time.  The dogs have always been a part of all of the big changes in our lives and their expressions of their feelings are similar to ours.

Last night I helped my daughter begin the transition to a new stage in life.  Her first apartment, her first job, her first big step out on her own.  She is moving away from home, and I am so proud of her for making it happen, but it is also bittersweet.

While we were gathering her things, the dogs grew restless.  When we went upstairs to bring things down from her room, there they were, lying at the bottom with their heads resting on the last step.  They weren’t keen on moving and it took some coaxing to get them out of our way.  When we were coming up the basement stairs with our arms loaded, there was Annie lying at the top with her big feet hanging over the edge while Maisie paced in circles around the house.

Maisie is very attached to Abigail, she rode on her lap all the way home on the first day we had her.  She went on many road trips to bring Abigail to school and again to pick her up.  After one of the drop offs she wouldn’t look at my husband or I when we got home and after that she only went with us when we were bringing Abigail back for breaks and vacations. It was too hard for her to say goodbye and she missed her presence as much as we did.

Transitions are tough on everyone, even good ones.  Life changes, it moves on whether we are ready or not.  With each baby, our family grew and there was more love to go around.  Each first day of school was emotional, some more than others.  Moving into a new house is exciting, but so disruptive.  Seeing the kids leave for college and then welcoming them home during school breaks, heart wrenching and joyous. The passing of our sweet dogs and the welcoming of new puppies brought different energy into our lives, each and every time.

The dogs have been there for the good times, the sad times and everything in between,  feeling our emotions and expressing their own.  I can mark our big family changes with each of them: Bogart started off as my husband’s Bachelor Dog and he was there for so much- our wedding, multiple moves and the arrival of each child. He took it all in with grace and loyalty; Bailey joined our family weeks after my youngest started kindergarten; Charlie joined our family after we lost Bogart and we missed him so much; Maisie joined our family after we lost Bailey and just before Abigail started her Sophomore year of college; Annie joined our family a couple of weeks after Thomas started college.  The dynamic of our family ebbs and flows and they are an important part of that rhythm. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

The goodbyes are always hard.

But the reunions are sweet.

This video was taken the moment Abigail walked in the door for Thanksgiving Break.  It was Maisie’s first time welcoming Abigail home.

Feeling thankful

For my kids, who both came home for the holiday and filled the house with happy, family sounds.

For my husband, who has been my best friend for over 25 years and as a bonus cooks dinner almost every night.

For family and friends, who are each unique and special and bring love into our lives.

For this full and delicious Thanksgiving table with wonderful people around it.

For these two dogs.  Maisie who is the most perceptive, sensitive and emotional dog I’ve ever known.  She shows her love in a big and constant way.  Annie who has given us the greatest gift of all, her trust and love.  She has changed our family and touched our hearts and every day with her is a joy.img_2936

And last but certainly not least, for the connections I’ve made through this blog and instagram.  To find common ground with people around the world through images and stories and shared interests has been one of the greatest gifts of the year!

Weekly photo challenge: Nostalgia

I have so many happy memories from the years before my children were school age.  Several times a week we would pack a lunch and head to the park.  Sometimes we would meet friends, sometimes it would be just the 3 of us.  To this day, whenever I drive past a park a get a little pang in my chest as memories flash by. It was a time before schedules and places to be.  We could decide each morning what we wanted to do.  My daughter loved go places and my son loved a “stay at home day” so I did my best to accommodate both their wishes.

I decided to take Maisie and Annie for a stroll down memory lane and we went back to some of the parks where the kids and I spent so much time. Obviously we didn’t have fun on the swings or slides and I was careful to keep the dogs away from areas where little ones were playing, but I did enjoy making some new memories with the dogs and remembering those fun times when the kids were little. And yes, I still had pangs of nostalgia.