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Therapy dogs offer a helping paw to young and old

Third-grade teacher Kathy Berger and former reading tutor Peg Murphy had talked about the possibility of bringing in a therapy dog to help some of their struggling students, and Berger piloted a program after getting the green light from the board of education.

"My only real goal is to have kids find some joy in reading. If reading is hard for you and it's something you don't like to do, then you'll do less of it," Berger said. "I really believe it enhances their ability to read and will hopefully help make them life long readers. It's been a huge success."

Berger said the program is not an instructional reading class, but that it "goes above and beyond" the students' regular reading and tutor classes. Kids have to get permission slips signed by their parents to participate.

"Solange lays on one beanbag and the kids sit on the other and read to her. Some of the third-graders really think Solange is listening," she said. "They pick books with dogs in them because they think Solange will like it better."

Lampila said that's because she does listen.

"Some of the students need confidence building, some need to improve classroom behavior or just struggle with reading and the dogs only job is to listen in a non-threatening and non-intimidating way," she said. "The dog just cuddles up to the kid and within in seven or eight minutes she is fast asleep."

Solange took it upon herself to connect with children.

"Sometimes she'll put her head on child's leg or interact in some way," Lamila said. "We never taught her to do this so I don't know where it came from."

Kathy Rogers, a therapy and service dog trainer wjo works at the Shaker Veterinary Hospital in Latham, said service dogs are usually "working dog" breeds, while a therapy dog can be any breed.

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