Friday, December 12, 2014

Dogs Don't Judge: Therapy Dog Improves Reading Skills

I had to share this story. The woman and dog featured in it, Nanette and Cooter Brown, are close family friends of mine from back home! Plus, they're doing some awesome stuff that I think is worth telling you about.

Cooter Brown, a three year-old silver lab, and his owner, Nanette Roenigk, volunteer at Monarch Academy in Texas, which is a school for kids with disabilities. Monarch Academy is part of Morgan's Wonderland, “the world's first ultra-accessible theme park,” and is committed to creating an educational environment that allows its students to reach their full potential and develop skills for life-long employment and active societal participation. They don't believe that expectations should be lowered for their students, but that unseen possibilities should be brought to light.

Cooter Brown and Nanette are helping make some of these possibilities happen by providing a gentle, nonjudgemental listener with whom students can practice their reading and speaking skills.

Cooter Brown is a therapy dog, and every Wednesday he goes to Monarch Academy to listen to students read, one at a time. The kids get to spend about ten minutes with Cooter Brown. During this time, they can relax and feel comfortable that Cooter Brown wants to listen to them and is not being critical.

Laura, a student at Monarch Academy, seems to value Cooter's gentle, nonthreatening nature. “Dogs don't judge me for how I look or anything,” she says. She also knows just the kinds of books to read to Cooter. “He seems to enjoy books about dogs.”

It's not only Cooter Brown's calmness that makes him a comforting reading buddy; he, too, has a disability. Cooter Brown is missing his left eye because of glaucoma, which makes him more approachable to students.

“He is different as well,” says Nanette, “and that's okay, so the kids can see that.”

And students' reading skills are improving. Head of Monarch Academy, Anne Bristol, says that she notices that students are eager to come be with Cooter, and therefore an eagerness to read.

Pretty neat, right?

Helping the disability community has been an important part of Nanette's life since 1990, when she gave birth to her daughter, Taelor, who had Prader-Willi Syndrome. Taelor passed away in 2008, and Taelor's House, a foundation that gives back to many of Taelor's favorite charities and community activities, was created. Click here to read more about Taelor, the foundation, and to see some interesting articles about disability and members of the disabled community.

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