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Tail waggin' tutor

Rosie knows a little about what it's like to need someone. As a young pup, she came to the Carlton County Animal Shelter as a stray. Because it was discovered she had mange, she found herself in need of a foster home that would isolate her from o...

Reading to Rosie
Seven-year-old Rayonna reads a story to Rosie, a therapy dog who is part of the "Tail Waggin' Tutors" program. Wendy Johnson/Pine Journal.
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Rosie knows a little about what it's like to need someone.

As a young pup, she came to the Carlton County Animal Shelter as a stray. Because it was discovered she had mange, she found herself in need of a foster home that would isolate her from other animals during the couple of months it would take her to get over the condition.

Shelter volunteer Diane Felde-Finke stepped in and offered to take Rosie home as a foster pet until the black lab-mix pup could be adopted into a permanent home.

About the time Rosie was ready to find a new home, the Friends of Animals was hosting its annual Beastie Bash event. The staff decided that Rosie would be a good candidate for the evening's "Mutt Strut," a parade of selected shelter dogs in need of adoption.

"As soon as Rosie walked into the room," related Felde-Finke, "she was immediately surrounded by hoards of children and she just ate up all the attention. I knew then that she was the dog I had been looking for."

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The kind of dog that Felde-Finke had been looking for was one that she could use as a therapy dog - a long-time dream of hers that she felt she had put on the back burner long enough.

She and Rosie, now 3-1/2 years old, enrolled in a Therapy Dogs International (TDI) course through Twin Ports Dog Training in Duluth.

"In order to become a certified therapy dog," explained Felde-Finke, "the dog has to demonstrate she can follow commands and adjust to being around things like wheelchairs, walkers, screaming kids and loud objects."

True to her nature, Rosie passed with flying colors, and she now makes visits to nursing homes, Pinewood-Cloquet and, most recently, South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton. There, Felde-Finke and Rosie volunteer weekly in the school's Title One Reading program as part of the TDI's "Tail Waggin' Tutor" initiative.

The idea is simple - since some children can be self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates, sitting down next to a dog and reading to him or her tends to put all threats of being judged aside. Side benefits include a greater excitement about reading, increased self esteem and the enjoyment of being around a pet.

"It's been truly amazing," said teacher Caryl Kunze. "Some of my readers who struggle the most have really done well with this program. They just aren't as intimidated when they're reading to a dog."

Felde-Finke said she gets as much out of the time she spends there as do the children.

"It combines two of my favorite things - dogs and reading!" she said.

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Felde-Finke and Rosie have visited Kunze's classroom weekly since March 10, meeting with some 60-70 student readers in grades one through five. Each student selects a book from among those the group has been studying and has one-on-one time reading to Rosie.

"Some of them even make a point of showing the pictures to her!" said Felde-Finke. "Rosie absolutely loves the attention, and the kids seem to love her, too!"

Indeed, when the group of children came into Kunze's room on Monday, they eagerly walked right up to the affable dog crying, "Rosie! Rosie!" and lavishing her with hugs.

And when it came time for each student to spend time reading to her, the books most of them selected came as no real surprise: "Bathtime for Biscuit" and "Clifford, the Big Red Dog."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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