Doodle, a three-year-old labradoodle, and his owners, Audrey Andersen and her son, Cartersville High School Senior Jake Andersen, are members of Therapy Dogs International.
According to www.tdi-dog.org, “The main objective of this program is to provide a relaxed and ‘dog-friendly’ atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading. Many of the children chosen for this program have difficulties reading and as a result have developed self-esteem issues. They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates.
“By sitting down next to a dog and reading to the dog, all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog, and focuses on the reading. Reading improves because the child is practicing the skill of reading, building self-esteem, and associating reading with something pleasant.”
Jake Andersen, who has spearheaded various community projects with other teens, said Doodle became certified as a therapy service dog last year.
“I’m a big animal lover and my dog has always been special to us so we wanted to train him to do service work so he could volunteer, too,” Andersen said. “... The whole premise of the whole program is dogs, like most animals, they don’t really judge.
“Doodle, since he’s a dog he doesn’t read to the kids, obviously, but when they read to him he’s not going to criticize them or critique them or show any response to [difficulties in reading]. It’s more about them reading, and even if they stumble or mess up, it’s a more comfortable environment.”
Andersen sits with Doodle while the children read, and if the child needs some help with reading, Andersen said he is glad to provide assistance if asked. While Doodle may not be able to give a verbal comment about working with children, Andersen said he believes the dog enjoys the work.
“Dogs are healthier when they stay active and this is a good way for Doodle to do that; it’s also a good way to meet other dogs in the community,” Andersen said. “As far as [my reason for participating], volunteerism is always something I’ve in my schedule of things to do.”
Audrey Andersen explained the TDI chapter of which Jake Andersen and Doodle are affiliated is located in DeKalb County, which requires a two-hour roundtrip for library visits.
“We would like to see the organization grow [in Bartow County] with people getting certified so we can serve,” Audrey Andersen said. “... Jake and Doodle will be the only [tutors] there Tuesday, but when [Jake Andersen] goes to an event in Stone Mountain, there might be six dogs and six handlers and kids line up.”
She said temperament in animals is key if owners are interested in participating in the program. For more information, visit www.tdi-dog.org.
The Emmie Nelson Public Library is located at 116 Covered Bridge Road in Euharlee. For program information, visit www.bartowlibraryonline.org.