Reading With Prairieland Dogs
Therapy dogs have been assisting children in reading for over 30 years in libraries and after-school centers, helping struggling readers and students with learning disabilities achieve greater levels of reading success. In most programs the therapy animal sits or lies quietly near the child; while the child, under the supervision of a teacher or an adult, reads to the animal.
Prairieland R.E.A.D. History
The idea of Reading Education Assistance Dogs, or R.E.A.D., was conceived by Sandy Martin and Kathy Klotz in 1999. Both were members of Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA) in Utah, and they believed that children’s reading and communication skills could be improved by reading to a dog.
In March 2000, ITA did a pilot study at Bennion Elementary School in Salt Lake City. The study found students that read to a dog showed marked improvement in their reading scores.
But these were not just any dogs. ITA used registered therapy animals. These dogs, who volunteered with their owner/handlers as a team, went to hospitals and other health care facilities. And now they were going to schools and libraries as reading companions for children. After the program’s initial success in Utah, it went nationwide. Today, thousands of registered R.E.A.D. teams work throughout mostly the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
R.E.A.D. was first approved by Topeka Public Schools after a presentation by Kathy Schlotterbeck in January 2006. We started at Williams Magnet School with two teams and at Highland Park Elementary School with four teams. In 2007-2008, we were in eight schools serving over thirty students.
Prairieland Visiting Animals Association (PVAA) began working in the Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library in January 2007. On April 2, 2007, PVAA was recognized for its efforts by the Topeka Area Reading Association, and presented with the “Celebrate Literacy Award.”
R.E.A.D. dogs were honored at a dedication of the Library’s new R.E.A.D. bench. A bronze sculptured bench with a little girl reading to a dog was donated by a retired pediatrician, Dr. Robert Parman, on April 18, 2012.
R.E.A.D. teams in attendance were, Barb Smith - Buddy & Huggins, Marty Metzler - Hannah, Leslie Johnson - Buzz, Darline Geer - Pearl, Lee Boyd - Waverly, Bitsey Patton - Abby, Betty Rose - Maggie and Karen Simecka - Emmy. Sharon Fricke - Rainbow (deceased).
Waverly had the honor of being the model for the little dog in the sculpture. She's retiring in 2022.
Reading with Prairieland Dogs has three 6 week sessions a year. Every Sunday from 2-3pm in February, June, and September, you’ll find R.E.A.D. and Read with Me teams in the Children’s section of the Library. Check out our Facebook and Instagram posts.