Therapy dogs in Winnipeg are helping children become more confident in their reading.
For the last 10 years, the Winnipeg Humane Society's See Spot Read program has partnered with St. Johns Ambulance, and more recently the Winnipeg Public Library to improve literacy levels in young children.
The Humane Society receives applications from local schools who are interested in providing their students with reading difficulties, a unique alternative solution. Cat Ross, the director of education and volunteer services at the Winnipeg Humane Society says, "it is the kids struggling with their confidence in reading, or even a little bit of anxiety, or insecurity with behavior," that the program specifically focuses on.
This ten-week program is made up of one-hour sessions where students are partnered up with St. Johns Ambulance therapy dogs. In the first half-hour of the session, the students read to their dog without judgment or corrections and in the second half, the students come together to take part in literacy-related activities.
Ross describes this program as a "safe space" and has seen incredible growth in students' confidence and reading abilities.
As students are reading to their assigned dogs, dog handlers are quietly listening for what the student might struggle with and monitor their development.
This free program sees elementary and grade-school children progressing through levels of reading at an impressive rate. Ross says one student jumped nine reading levels in just 10 weeks.
"We have seen such a great response to the program, there really has not ever been a year that goes by where we do not have any interest," Ross says.
Recently 10 new schools have been added to the program making for another impressive jump from eight to 18 schools in one year with a growing waitlist.
This has been encouraging, however, as the program and waiting list increase Ross says "we are limited simply by the funding that we have." The funding places boundaries on their capabilities, staffing, and materials.
Ross continues to dream and says "this program is just this amazing opportunity." She hopes they "one day run Monday to Friday all day."