Tag Archives: therapy dog

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.

St. Patrick’s Day fun day

We went on a spring walk on Saturday.  It was a glorious, sunny, cool day that was perfect for walking the dogs.  The highlight of this walk was that we joined our local Newfoundland Club to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  Everyone was encouraged to show their spirit by dressing in green for a costume contest.

I had a vision in my head and gathered up the supplies to create two fluffy skirts that would bounce and sway with the “Newfoundland Wiggle”.

They turned out exactly as I wanted and their movement was perfect!

Fortunately, we weren’t the only ones that dressed up (our dogs) and we found ourselves in the midst of a very festive group.


After we left the walk, Maisie and I raced to our training class.  We are back in classes working toward being a certified therapy team. I decided to leave her dressed, figuring that the staff would be entertained by her outfit and they were!  Her skirt proved to be a good distraction for at least one of the other dogs to work through, and Maisie had her best class ever.  Maybe because she was tired, but I also think she was showing off because she felt special.  She was exhausted from it all once we got home!

We hope you all had a fun weekend too!

So now what?

We go through our days with our usual routines, sharing a laugh, having minor aggravations, rushing around, being late, being early, accomplishing everything we planned, accomplishing none of what we planned and then you receive news that turns your whole world upside-down.  Someone you love is sick.  Not “I have the flu” sick, but BIG sick, hospital sick, life changing sick.

This year I’ve had to deal with this more than once, and every time it’s shocking. I have literally had buzzing in my ears and been unable to understand the words coming at me.  I have been shocked into silence, losing my ability to form sentences. I’ve learned to repeat to myself “remain calm, don’t jump to conclusions, wait for the facts”. It’s so hard standing on the sidelines, waiting for information.  The feelings of helplessness are overwhelming and the sense of needing to do something itches to the surface.  I try to focus on the things I can do, rather than the things I can’t and I definitely don’t Google! Waiting for information is difficult, but each patient is unique and it’s best for me to rely on the doctors for information or my imagination can start to go wild.

Recently I received this sort of news about one of my oldest and dearest friends. Her situation is unique in that she can not have any visitors so I am relying on other people to relay updates and information on her condition. So far, it’s been really rocky and the feelings of helplessness are almost unbearable. I find my mind wandering. I feel like a have a photo slide carousel in my head because I keep getting random memory flashes that flip from one experience to another with no warning. Her image suddenly pops up and then disappears just as quickly. Sometimes these memories bring a smile, sometimes a tear but I enjoy being reminded of so many different times that we have shared.

A couple of weeks before I received this news, we were having a lot of stress in our house.  This stress revolved 100% around the World Series.  I was shouting, groaning, clapping, covering my eyes and occasionally jumping around.  Maisie was beside herself trying to keep up with my emotions.  She paced, curled up on my feet, put her head on my knees and tried to climb into my lap.  I’ve always known that she is sensitive to human emotions, more than any other dog I’ve had in my life, but her response to me during the World Series was confirmation that she has very special skills.img_3306

In an attempt to channel my feelings of helplessness into something positive, Maisie and I have started advanced obedience classes with the goal being that she becomes a certified therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International (TDI). The first step is to get her Canine Good Citizen certification and then move up to TDI certification.  It will take several sessions and several tests to successfully get her there but I am very optimistic. My hope is that we can use her skills to help people in need.  Therapy dogs are used in hospitals and nursing homes. They help with mental and physical therapy.  Schools, Colleges and Universities utilize therapy dogs to help relieve stress, and reading and learning centers have had great success with read-to-dog programs.  I don’t know which type of program we will be matched with, but I’m excited to explore different options.

Each different medical situation has led me to this point of feeling like I’m at a crossroad, trying to figure out my next direction. Since I’m not a doctor or healer, doing what I can to bring positive energy to people who need it is what is motivating me.  I have more free time now that my kids are both in college and it seems appropriate for me to find new ways to help in my community. I’m excited to explore this path after this year of emotional ups and downs and I hope we can make a difference for others.  After all, when the going gets tough, the tough get going!