Man's best friend lending an ear in Catoosa County

Man's best friend lending an ear in Catoosa County

September 8th, 2011 by Mike O'Neal in Local Regional News

Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! is not something one normally hears during discussion about teaching the "three R's" - reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic.

But soon canines will help kids become literate as part of a READing Paws program that is being formed in Catoosa County.

Fade Crump, a second-grader at Boynton Elem.; Maggie, a 3-year-old greyhound; Ashley Crump, a seventh-grader at Heritage Middle School; Melissa Holcombe, volunteer coordinator for READing Paws; and Jeffery "J.P." Collins, a third-grader at Ringgold Elementary, from left, are some of the faces of the READing Paws program.

Fade Crump, a second-grader at Boynton Elem.; Maggie,...

Photo by Mike O'Neal

READing Paws is animal-assisted therapy where kids read to dogs, according to Melissa Holcombe, a social worker with the local school system who is also volunteer coordinator for this program.

"Kids are often anxious when learning to read and that is something that can get in way of their ability to learn," she said. "Dogs don't judge."

READing Paws uses nationally registered animal-owner/handler teams who volunteer to go to schools, libraries and other settings where the dogs become reading companions for children.

"I have a small grant from the Adult Learning Center that will pay for volunteers to be trained. A trainer will come here if we can get seven to 10 [teams] involved, otherwise it is done in Atlanta," Holcombe said.

Volunteers first register their animal as a therapy dog, then both dog and human attend a one-day class, observe a reader in action "and then you are observed, much like student teaching," said Holcombe.

Having registered therapy teams ensures animals have been trained and tested for health and safety, appropriate skills and temperament and allows the teams to have liability insurance.

Initially, dogs will be used in schools where principals have invited READing Paws volunteers to to help first- through third-graders build confidence and reading skills.

"My goal is to get a group of volunteers trained to do this throughout the county, not just for youngsters but also for adult literacy and special education programs," Holcombe said.