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Bideawee’s Pet Therapy Program Introduces Therapy Dog Reading Program to Long Island Schools

Bideawee’s Pet Therapy Program Introduces Therapy Dog Reading Program to Long Island Schools

Bideawee has offered pet therapy programming since 1985, and now five dogs will help children learn to read, be more comfortable reading out loud, and be more at home around dogs.

For some kids, learning to read, reading out loud, or spending time with dogs can be uncomfortable and scary experiences. To help children in their community with all three of these endeavors, Bideawee animal shelter sent five reading therapy dogs to Willets Road School in Roslyn Heights on April 15 so children were able to read in a non-judgmental, loving, calm environment. Bideawee’s Pet Therapy program has been sending therapy animals of all stripes to schools, nursing homes, hospitals, airports, and more since 1985.

Community members can bring their animals to Bideawee for therapy training so each dog, cat, rabbit, and more can gain the skills necessary to support people who need comfort. Each animal must be at least one year old and owned for at least six months, and undergo a temperament test to determine if they have the right outgoing-yet-calm personality for therapy. Then volunteers can bring them out to different locations in the community. The six owners and dogs who visited Willets Road School as part of the Reading with Dogs program are:

  • Rob Flower and Chester (6-year-old golden retriever)
  • Gladys Paige-Wharton and Bailey (10-year-old yellow lab)
  • Gloria Ciolli and Samantha (8-year-old “teddy bear” type dog)
  • Diane Petroccione and Willow (4-year-old terrier mix)
  • Carol Goulding and Charlie (15-year-old King Charles spaniel)

“We want to get our animals out into the community,” says Alicia Ryan-Meuschke, who oversees the Long Island pet therapy program. “We’re always about making that human-animal connection, so doing that through pet therapy, getting animals to visit people, is really important to us.”

Ryan-Meuschke adds that having an animal present while conquering big steps like reading aloud is especially comforting for kids.

“Whether they’re nervous to read in front of other people or they just haven’t really honed in on their skills, having an animal present that they can pet and be next to relaxes them. Having a dog there makes kids excited to read instead of fearful to read,” she says. 

The program has received positive feedback in the community, and more Long Island and NYC schools and libraries are scheduled to received a visit from Bideawee’s reading therapy dogs soon.

“The typical feedback is, there was a student who was just struggling so much, they didn’t even want to come to class,” Ryan-Meuschke says. “But they would be so excited when the dogs came, they would be the first one in line ready to pet the animal and ready to read. For kids who [might be] scared of dogs, this is the best way to introduce kids to the animals as well. If they are part of the reading program and they are initially scared of dogs, by the end of the year they’re the first ones in line petting the dogs because they’ve had such a positive experience.”

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Jacqueline Neber

Author: Jacqueline Neber is a social journalism MA candidate at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. When she’s not reporting, you can find her petting someone else’s dog. See More

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