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Read a book to a dog - it works!
Murphy and Linda Frey It is proven that when a child reads to a dog, their blood pressure decreases, they relax and the dog provides a nonjudgmental environment.
--Linda Frey

by Linda Frey

Murphy, my 11-year-old border collie mix, and I are a registered therapy animal team, volunteering together since 2007. It all started after I retired as an air-traffic controller and I desired to continue being productive. What would be better than volunteering with your favorite furry, family member?

Fortunately, Murphy was very well-trained and socialized as a puppy so she passed her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification easily and then completed therapy animal training.

Next we were evaluated and registered with Pet Partners, an international, nonprofit organization whose mission is to help people live healthier and happier lives by incorporating therapy, service and companion animals into their lives. The last step was to join a local group of other therapy teams in the metro area, North Star Therapy Animals (NSTA).

NSTA was already involved with the Hennepin County Library system's "Paws to Read" program, and Murphy and I became a registered R.E.A.D. team (Reading Education Assistance Dogs). This program improves children's reading and communication skills by simply having them read to a dog. It is proven that when a child reads to a dog, their blood pressure decreases, they relax and the dog provides a nonjudgmental environment. The child gets the supervised reading practice necessary to build vocabulary, increase understanding of the material and gain fluency as a reader. Murphy and I have seen this firsthand.

One of my favorite experiences was with a young reader who was reading below grade level and on the first visit struggled to read "Harry, the Dirty Dog." After several visits and a year had passed, this boy was now able to read the Harry Potter series. His mother was ecstatic!

We have seen autistic children become calmer and able to sit longer to read. A boy who had previously shown little interest in reading was able to read an entire book for the first time. And a boy who was afraid of dogs and who started out by sitting away from Murphy eventually sat right next to her with his arm around her as he read.

The rewards are simple. Murphy gets more treats and I get a sense of satisfaction that together we have helped a child become more interested in reading.

Linda Frey lives in Chaska and is the volunteer coordinator for North Star Therapy Animals' reading program.

For more information on therapy animals, visit www.northstartherapyanimals.org and www.petpartners.org

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