Friday, January 14, 2011

Reading with Chester

Weekly, Chester and I visit a local elementary school to read one-on-one with students.   Doesn't sound like too big of a deal,  but it's huge.  Often these students are those who are struggling readers for one reason or another, and because of this, reading is usually not on their top 10 list of favorite things to do ~~~unless of course, they get to snuggle up next to a lovable, furry, golden retriever named Chester, while they open their book! 

Our visit this week was typical and miraculous all at the same time.  After meeting the student in his classroom, we headed out the classroom door and down the hallway to our reading spot. The boy gently held one of Chester's leashes, and proudly lead the way. Most everyone we passed, children and staff,  oooohed and awed as we wove our way through crowded hallways. I heard quiet whispers of  Wow is that your dog?  Cool dog!  Can I pet him? , and with each comment, I noticed Chester's friend stood a little taller, and Chester strutted a bit prouder.  When at last we arrived at our reading spot,  this boy with the giant brown eyes, snuggled in next to Chester and opened his book.  Slowly he began to read, showing Chester the pages. Chester didn't notice mispronounced words or phrases, he just listened and enjoyed being with his friend.  After 10 minutes or so, this amazing student,  who has been working so hard to sound out letters and words, begs me, literally pleads with me :-), to read one more page, or five more minutes to his furry friend.   The teacher in me knows for certain that this, is a miracle, a struggling reader who WANTS TO read!    While gently rubbing Chester's ears, I smile at this hard-working reader, "I think Chester wants five more minutes too!"

PS Thank you to the very kind Principal, who was noticeably a bit surprised to walk into his teacher's lounge (our reading area) and find a very large four-legged-furry friend  snuggled with one of his students, reading ON the couch.  You watched, you listened, you encouraged. You saw the miracle too. :-) 

A bit about Chester and Me (his mom :-)

To tell you a bit about Chester 'n me,  and how Tails of a Therapy Dog  began~

My blog, Tails of a Therapy Dog  ( simply began because I wanted a place to write down our stories. With each pet therapy visit, a new tail was birthed. And I never wanted to forget the stories ~~

I am a wife, a mom, a Gigi (grandma!).  I am a retired school teacher, though I don't think anyone who is a teacher at heart ever really retires or stops teaching.  I have been blessed to live in some of the most beautiful places on earth, from the California shores of the Pacific Ocean, to the majestic Rocky Mountains, to the Hawaiian Islands, historic Pennsylvania, and now the beautiful Central Coast of California.

By God's design, after moving east, I stumbled upon KPETS in Lancaster, PA, and found a wonderful fit for a  season of my life ~ serving in KPETS, Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services, with our lovable  Golden Retriever, Chester.  I totally love what I get to do ~ bless others and hang out with my golden at the same time ~ visiting people of all ages, bringing hope, encouragement, and tail wags to those in need. 

Chester joined our family when he was about 9 weeks old ~  when my husband, Keith and I  met him at his home near Gettysburg, PA. it was love at first sight. And, he picked us, no doubt about it.   Chester joins a heritage of goldens in our family ~ Brighton, Behr, HoneyBear, Ginger, Clark, & Muffin.  Each one has enriched our family more than words can say,  depositing golden memories in our hearts. That sounds corny, but it's ohsotrue. I could not imagine life without the love of a golden in our home and at my side. Muffin, our golden-girl before Chester, was my first unofficial therapy dog ~ joining me in my 3rd grade classrooms at Kona Christian Academy in Hawaii.   She was an expert at helping students become better readers and writers, but her specialty was teaching her kids (and their teacher)  about unconditional love. At 13, that's 91 in doggie years, she bravely journeyed with us across sea and land to Pennsylvania.  She lived with us in PA only a short time, but moments before going to heaven at the golden age of 14, somehow, as only God could orchestrate, she connected me to KPETS.  SO typical of Goldens, always taking care of their people. Thank you Muff :-).

In many ways, all of our dogs have been personal therapy dogs in our family.    But now, with Chester, we are having the joy of going beyond our home, out into the community, bringing Pet Therapy to others!  What a privilege.

 Now,  you know a bit of the rest of the story...

PS  Superstar Muffin on her 14th birthday ~ she enjoyed a BBQ'd hamburger , and then delighted in chasing fireflies (maybe sauntering after fireflies is a better way to put it), across the lush Pennsylvania field behind our home.  A short 1 month later ~~ she crossed rainbow bridge. 

Miracle Moment in Speech Therapy

It began as just an ordinary day at Schreiber Pediatric Rehab.  Chester and I were strolling down the hallway to meet one of our favorites, Melissa, for an hour of physical therapy. Strolling is the wrong word. I was trying to stroll, Chester would have RUN had I given him permission. I felt like the teacher saying to her students "Walk Please," when they were headed out to recess.   

Anyways, as we were moving forward to our destination, I heard a voice from one of the Speech Therapy Rooms. "Excuse me, you with the dog :), I know you're on your way to an appointment, but do you have a moment to stop in my room?"

I paused. Chester paused.  She stepped out of her doorway and into the hallway, continuing, "You see, in all my time working with this little girl, she has never been able to put words together to speak in a complete sentence. However, today, when you passed by she asked me, "Can I pet the dog?"


We immediately changed direction and entered the Speech Therapy Room. There sat a little girl with long brown hair and cute little glasses,  in a chair, next to a small table filled with toys, puzzles, books. A scruffy backpack was tucked close by the side of her chair.

When she saw the dog she erupted in smiles and giggles.  "I hear you'd like to pet Chester," I said.  She nodded and began to stroke his soft fur.

 The little girl spoke, "I have a dog at home!"

The therapist grinned and looked directly into my eyes. "Sentence number two," she mouthed.

I think my jaw dropped open.

This kind woman scooted in close to her patient and to Chester. "Can you tell me about your doggie at home?" she asked.

Without hesitating, little hands unzipped the backpack and reached inside.  Out came a well-loved stuffed puppy-dog. The little girl showed it to her therapist and to Chester, then proudly explained, "This is my doggie!"

Three fingers waved at me. "Number three," the woman whispered.

Tears welled in my eyes, I could not hold them back.

As the saying goes, The Journey is the Destination.  How true this is. And today, while on our journey down the hallway, we were blessed to be a part of a miracle.