Learning to read can be hard for young kids, especially if they struggle with anxiety, autism, or ADHD. However, a school in Janesville, Wisconsin, has come up with a unique solution by installing a trained comfort dog inside the classroom.
But though she’s based along with the rest of the K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School, this laidback Golden Retriever spreads her stress-reducing vibes around town with regular day trips in the area.
For instance, Mary also regularly visits a nearby high school, where special needs students take turns reading aloud to the dog twice a month. According to one teacher, kids who struggle to read aloud in the classroom can read easily with Mary, who curls up beside them on a beanbag chair inside a private reading room.
Eventually, those kids become more confident reading in front of their peers, so much so that other teachers are might welcome Mary into their classrooms, which could be particularly useful for anxious students around test-time.
Along with her book smarts, Mary is one of the cool girls at Beloit Memorial High School, which is evidenced by the Beatles-type reception she receives every time she steps into the hallway. Unlike other service dogs, which shouldn’t be petted while on the job, Mary relishes the attention, so much so that she wears a special harness inviting students to pet her.
Mary’s popularity is such that she requires 5 publicists and 9 handlers to manage her busy social calendar, which includes visits to local nursing homes, hospitals, jails, veteran centers and 911 call centers, all anxiety-inducing places that can benefit from a dog’s calming presence.
Other members of the K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry have been dispatched to Thousand Oaks, California, where they’ll help comfort the grieving community struggling to cope with America’s most recent shooting.
Mary underwent 2 years of training for this role at St. Pauls, which explains her impeccable manners. But handler Cheryl Skelly suggests Mary’s people skills might also stem from her background, because Golden retrievers are known as an easy-going and trainable breed.
“They love people and people tend to be drawn to them like magnet,” Skelly told a local paper. “When a person can’t do something for someone who is struggling or suffering, a dog can reach in a way another person can’t.”
J. Swanson is a writer, traveler, and animal-enthusiast based in Seattle, an appropriately pet-crazed city where dog or cat ownership even outweighs the number of kids. When the weather permits, she likes to get outside and explore the rest of the Pacific Northwest, always with a coffee in hand.
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