Rescued Dog Helps Children Learn to Read

April 9, 2010 | By Margo Sullivan | Category: Heroes | 21 comments
Tags: heroes, working animals

Johnny Claude visits with children at the library to help them learn to read.

HAMPSTEAD, N.H ─ A favorite dog returned recently to help the children at the Mary E. Clarke Library enjoy reading.

Johnny Claude, a Standard Poodle, curled up beside a pint-sized rocking chair and waited for a youngster to come.

The six-year-old dog started working with the Hampstead children about a year ago but medical problems have kept him away for the past several months, according to Janet Eagleson, spokeswoman for the library.

Johnny Claude almost died in December from a stomach hemorrhage and other medical complications, his owner Gretchen Gott said.

As Gott walked him up to the front desk, all of the staff members rushed out to welcome him back.

Johnny Claude promptly dropped to the rug and covered his face with his paws.

He was back to normal.

“This is the Attention Deficit Disorder of the Puppy World,” Gott laughed. “I’m not sure who gets who more spun up, him or the children.”

Hampstead is Johnny Claude’s first library; he also is a pet therapy dog at veteran’s hospitals and a greeter at Pease Air Base. That’s where the military flights stop to refuel, so he meets soldiers on the way to Iraq and Afghanistan or on the way home, Gott said.

“He’s not the only dog there,” she said, but the soldiers are typically glad to see a pet.

Gott started in pet therapy by taking dogs to veteran’s hospitals ─ a gesture that almost ended in her being fired.

“I was a recreational therapist in the VA system for 36 years,” she said. “I started taking dogs in (to hospitals) my second year. It was highly illegal at the time.”

But she kept her job, she said. And the dogs plainly helped the injured veterans mend. Dogs aren’t judgmental, she said. If a person’s missing a leg or an arm or can’t pronounce a work, the dogs don’t care.

“They give people confidence,” she said. “Then you can have a conversation,” centered on the dog but eventually moving to more substantive topics. And the visits from the pets break up the hospital routine.

“Boredom is lethal,” she said.

She decided to start Johnny Claude at a library because she herself loves reading, and pet therapy has been shown to help children overcome anxieties about reading, she said.

“I am a reader,” she said. “I cannot imagine what it would be like not to enjoy reading.”

Johnny Claude likes the work, she said.

With his curly top-knot and big brown eyes, the 72-pound dog plainly has many of the children fascinated. Monday, a little girl who was playing with blocks in the children’s section kept looking over at the dog.

She was only just learning to read, her mother said.

“She can tell him a story,” Gott suggested.

The children’s parents sign them up for a reading session with Johnny Claude, library director Peggy Thrasher said previously.

The parents also stay for the session, Gott said, and she tries to keep the dog attentive.

“Sometimes, he falls asleep,” she laughed. “But he’s a very sweet boy, and he’s very well socialized.”

Johnny Claude was a rescue dog originally, Gott said. She adopted him when he was six months old. Gott also owns four other dogs, including two other Standard Poodles.

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Comments (21)

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Gail S.

Gail S.
5 years ago

Awesome-pets are so therapeutic and their presence is helpful in so many ways. This story illustrates that!

Good Point | Reply ›


5 years ago

This is a worthwhile program, and a good story. It expounded on a journal one of our zootooers wrote a few months back concerning dogs helping children to read.

Good Point | Reply ›

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