Therapy dogs encourage reading, visit the elderly
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Therapy dogs Bruno and Tucker lay down and let kids pet and love on them every Wednesday afternoon at the Copperas Cove Public Library.
The two also visit and bring joy to residents at Hill Country Rehab and Nursing Center Wednesday mornings and at Copperas Cove Nursing and Rehabilitation Thursday mornings.
Their owner, Stephanie Malley, is a chaplain with Canines for Christ, a Christian-based canine assisted therapy ministry that was started in Florida by Larry Randolph in 2007. To be therapy dogs with Canines for Christ, the dogs must be over a year old, be gentle and well-mannered and have the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen Certification or Therapy Dogs International (TDI) testing.
Bruno, a two-year-old Lab/German Shepherd mix and Tucker, a two-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, are part of the Canines for Christ Study Buddies program, which focuses on children in schools, libraries and other literacy-focused environments.
Both dogs were trained at Kustom K9 in Nolanville, which is where Malley found out about Canines for Christ.
She started with Bruno, who has his AKC Canine Good Citizen certification as well as his AKC Community Canine title. Malley later adopted Tucker, who had been trained as a service dog before being abandoned by his owner. Tucker is working on his visits portion of his AKC Canine Good Citizen certification, Malley said.
Being therapy dogs, Bruno and Tucker are trained around wheelchairs, crutches and walkers and are used to being petted all over, Malley said.
In the nursing homes, they even help residents with their physical therapy, with the residents reaching to pet them when they might otherwise have not reached at all.
At the library, the two dogs are surrounded by children of all ages, lying contently as one child reads aloud and another strokes a tail.
Malley said she was told she could come to the library or the nursing homes anytime she wants with the dogs.
“Everywhere I go with these dogs, they love it,” she said about the reception the dogs have received.
The dogs’ presence inspires kids to read, and if a child has a hard time reading, the dogs don’t care, Malley said.
The benefits of pet therapy include lessening depression, lowering anxiety, reducing loneliness, encouraging communication, reducing boredom, providing comfort, lowering blood pressure and helps with speech and emotional disorders, according to Canines for Christ website.
Another benefit is for the kids who can’t have a dog for whatever reason, Malley said.
“And of course I get to share the love of Jesus and I get to talk about it, which is my first love,” Malley added. She hands out bookmarks that say “I read to Tucker today!!” or “I read to Bruno today!!” as well as business cards with pictures of Bruno or Tucker and the Bible verse John 3:16 on them.
Keri Grimes was at the library Wednesday afternoon with her five-year-old daughter, Audrey, who sat near Bruno and looked at the pictures in a book before listening to another child read aloud. Grimes said she found one of Malley’s business cards at the library during a previous visit and found out about the dogs that way.
Grimes said that they don’t have any pets, but that she takes Audrey to PetSmart to look at the animals there. If their schedule allows it, Grimes said she would try and come back.
“I think the only drawback will be she might ask for a dog a little more often,” Grimes said.
Library director Kevin Marsh shared that since Malley started bringing Bruno and Tucker to the library, he has seen kids sit down and read to the dogs and not worry about mispronouncing a word or being judged. There have even been regulars who call and ask about the dogs.
“It’s just a very good developmental tool that helps kids develop confidence in and strengthen their reading skills,” Marsh said.
There have been therapy dogs in the library before but none with Canines for Christ, Marsh said. It seems to be a rewarding experience for the kids and “whatever encourages kids to read more, we’re in favor of it,” Marsh said.
Marsh said that the presence of the dogs shows that the library is trying to get people interested in what the library offers.
“We want to have something here to appeal to each person,” Marsh said. “So some people like having a dog to read to and will come here just for that, somebody else comes just for the Square Dancing. Somebody else comes just for the DVD collection. Someone else just uses our e-books and never even walks through the door.”
Bruno and Tucker will be at the library every Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and will continue their visits year-round.
For more information on Canines for Christ, visit their website: www.k9forchrist.org