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Therapy Dog Connects With Paradise Students

The story of Bobdog, a champion soft coated wheaten terrier owned by Carol Carlson, is one of connections. First, there was the connection between Carlson, who volunteers at the Salisbury Branch of the Pequea Valley Public Library, and library youths services coordinator Sharon Sudbrack. Sudbrack, whose children attended Paradise Elementary School, 20 N. Belmont Road, Paradise, suggested Carlson talk to Marie Johnston, reading specialist at the school, to arrange reading sessions between Bobdog (who is called Bob, for short) and students.

"(Bobdog) started out with the summer reading program (at the library)," explained Carlson. After Bobdog, who is trained as a therapy dog through KPETS, was successful at the library, the pair began branching out by visiting the elementary school as well.

"I know how kids feel (about) reading in front of other people," explained Johnston. "I knew they would feel more comfortable practicing reading with a dog." According to Johnston, she divides students into small groups that gather in the school library to sit with Bobdog to practice their reading fluency and expression. "They practice a lot more knowing they are going to get to read this to Bob," said Johnston.

Over the last three years, Bobdog has worked with about 75 students on a rotating basis, and he has made more than 100 visits, which has earned him two therapy dog titles from the American Kennel Club. "They want to encourage dogs to interact with people," Carlson said.

"It's fun (having Bobdog here)," added Johnston. "Many kids look forward to seeing him, and he gives them unconditional acceptance that builds their confidence as readers. No one is judging when they're reading to Bob." Johnston has also noted a connection between Carlson and the students. "Carol has a natural instinct," said Johnston. "She gives the child a little time to figure out a word."

One English language learner program student has especially flourished by partnering with Bobdog. Jose, who is now a fourth-grade student, began reading to Bobdog two years ago. "The first year he brought bilingual books, and he would read the sentence in Spanish, and Carol would read it in English," explained Johnston. "It was really neat to watch him progress," said Carlson. "Now he brings (English) chapter books to read to Bob."

The connection between Carlson and Bobdog's breeder has also proven fruitful for the students. "Breeder Pam Mandeville keeps up with all the dogs," explained Carlson. Because Mandeville is in touch with owners of the dogs she raised, she was aware that Bobdog's litter mate Riley was the subject of a new eBook by Arielle Davies. The chapter book for kindergarten through fifth-graders is titled "The Hungry Adventures of Riley: Hot Dog in the City." The book is illustrated by Jason Norton. "(Mandeville) knew that Riley and Bobdog were litter mates, and she knew Bobdog was coming here to read, so she let the author know," explained Carlson.

When Davies learned of the connection, she sent the school 10 copies of the book. In response, Johnston's students created animated videos to send to the author as a thank you. Now, Carlson and Johnston are hoping to obtain the funding to make the book available to other Paradise Elementary schoolchildren. "We are going to try to get more copies of the books in the library so more students have the opportunity to read it," said Johnston.

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