As students and staff in my school district deal with the effects of COVID-19 and social distancing, those who have enjoyed seeing Rita around school in the past now can “visit” with Rita via her very own Google Classroom, called Rita’s Barkroom. During this time it can be helpful to keep established connections (or make new ones) for those who don’t have access to this type of “therapy” at home.
Rita’s Barkroom has photos and videos of Rita posted daily, keeping a positive and upbeat tone. Rita’s Barkroom will hopefully help students and staff stay connected with Rita, bring a smile to others’ faces, and offer the benefits of therapy dog visits to the greatest extent possible right now.
Rita’s Barkroom is private and only able to be viewed by staff and students of my school district.
Margarita had her “first day at college” with a great visit at Rowan College at Burlington County meeting students and staff in the Student Success Center for their Mental Health Week event, while she helped enlighten them on the positive benefits therapy dogs provide for students with depression and anxiety!
The event was sponsored by Phi Theta Kappa Chi lota Chapter and RCBC Student Support.
The first full week of October focused on increasing understanding of what mental illness feels like, so others can learn more about the wide range of symptoms experienced by those living with a mental illness.
In addition, the purpose of this week was to also reduce the misunderstanding and stigma associated with mental health conditions.
Those of you who have been following along know that Rita became a registered Therapy Dog. My school district decided to start a Therapy Dog program, and Rita was one of the first dogs starting the program!
My students were super-excited! They made welcome signs, and we marked the calendar for her first day of school!
Students created posters and centimeter cube formations to welcome Rita to our class:
Ready for her first day of school with her Paw Patrol backpack!
Rita did very well with the kids, and the students enjoyed having Rita by their side as they practiced multiplication facts.
Rita was quite exhausted after her first day with the students, and napped her way through my Prep period.
Rita’s first day was a success – what a great program this will be for the students!
Not long after Margarita and I passed our test to become a registered Therapy Dog Team with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, I learned about a great program called R.E.A.D.(Reading Education Assistance Dogs). I decided this would be an excellent opportunity for us, so I began to study for the written test. One day before Margarita’s 1st Gotcha Day / 7th-ish Birthday, we received the great news that I passed, and we are now officially a registered R.E.A.D. team!
“The mission of the R.E.A.D. program is to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as “literacy mentors.”
The Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program improves children’s reading and communication skills by employing a powerful method: reading to an animal. But not just any animal. R.E.A.D. companions are registered therapy animals who volunteer with their owner/handlers as a team, going to schools, libraries and many other settings as reading companions for children.
R.E.A.D. is the first and foremost program that utilizes therapy animals to help kids improve their reading and communication skills and also teaches them to love books and reading. It’s been growing around the world since November of 1999 when ITA launched it here in Salt Lake City. More than 3,500 therapy teams have trained and registered with the program and are going strong!
Today, thousands of registered R.E.A.D. teams work throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, Finland, France, Sweden, South Africa, Slovenia, Spain, Netherlands, Norway and beyond. “
Evesham Library offers a monthly “Wagging Tales” event where children come to the Library to read to Therapy Dogs. Margarita is now a part of this awesome program which aims to help children boost their confidence and increase their communication and literary skills while reading to a registered Therapy Dog.
Those of you following along may remember that Margarita and I took a Therapy Dog Workshopin preparation for taking our Therapy Dog test. I am proud to announce that Margarita and I passed the 4-part test to become a registered team with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs!
Margarita has already visited an assisted living home, a medical facility, and also participated in a local library’s children’s reading program!
Interested in becoming a registered therapy dog team with The Alliance of Therapy Dogs? Click HERE on how to become a member, find a test/observer in your area, and view a test example.
Jenny and Rita getting ready to start the first activity at the Therapy Dog Workshop:
Margarita lovers her “place” mat, and was a well-behaved, attentive student:
The instructor, Judith Azaren, focused on a variety of skills, including:
Greeting/Disengaging on cue
Working calmly around other dogs
Handler engagement techniques
Distraction work including dogs, people, wheelchair, walker, etc
We feel as though Margarita did very well for her first time being presented with the tasks that were covered in this workshop.
Margarita quickly learned to look at me to earn a reward when she discovers staged piles of treats on the floor. Therapy dogs come across many items on a floor, such as medication/pills accidentally dropped on the floor. It is imperative that the dogs look to the handler rather than ingest what they find:
Here is Margarita weaving past other dogs, and not engaging:
Rita practiced loose-leash walking:
Margarita did well working around distractions such as crutches, wheel chairs, walkers, and a vacuum cleaner:
Margarita picked up on the “touch” game very quickly! Each time she touched my hand with her snout, she earned a treat. That was a fun game for her!
Here she is working on “touch” while not engaging with other dogs as they walk by:
Working on “touch:”
We have already contacted several Therapy Pet Registering organizations in order to start the process of Margarita’s evaluation and registration. We are hoping that with some additional training and practice, we will be able to have Margarita certified as a Therapy Dog so that she can help provide affection and comfort to those in need!
Do you think your dog or pet may be a good candidate for becoming a Therapy Dog? Each organization has different requirements, so be sure to do your research. Here are some of the most well-known for therapy pets (click on the names below to be directed to the organizations’ website):