Children in Glen Rose are finding two dog-gone good reasons to pick up books and read.
Janet Mills and her canines, Rhythm and Walker, have been regulars in local schools for several years and now they are making regular appearances at the Somervell County Library on Thursday afternoons.
It was through several failures that Mills was able to make the program a success. Rhythm and Walker are just two of the dogs that Mills has raised for Southeastern Guide Dogs in Florida over the past two decades.
The puppies go through training and if they cannot complete it, they are released from the program. At that time, the “foster” family has the first right of refusal to provide a home for the pups.
“In 2005, Rhythm was released because of recurring ear infections,” Mills said. “I decided to get her registered as a therapy dog. She is quite intuitive.”
As a therapy dog, the yellow Labrador retriever travels to Dallas once a week to assist patients at Pate Rehabilitation Hospital.
“Therapy dogs go to a facility and work with people in the facility,” Mills said. “They are general feel-good dogs. They visit with the people who are there and make them feel better.”
Patients improve their motor skills, which may be lacking due to a stroke or brain injury, as they brush, throw balls or walk with Rhythm.
“Dogs actually become a therapy mode,” Mills said.
In the spring of 2006, Mills decided to expand the therapy program from the hospital to schools. She began taking Rhythm to Glen Rose Intermediate School to visit Jana Brandt’s classroom and encourage students to read.
“It was a great success,” Mills said.
Over the years, Mills began substitute teaching at Glen Rose Elementary and Intermediate schools, taking Rhythm along for the ride.
“Over time, people just expected me to have a dog with me,” she said.
Glen Rose Independent School District was supportive of Mills and her yellow-haired pup and allowed Rhythm to attend class as well.
Earlier this spring, Mills added another canine to her roster when Walker, a black Labrador, returned to her. She also registered him as a therapy dog and began taking him to the hospital and to school.
Rhythm and Walker have become motivators for students to read more books.
“There are several things that come into play,” Mills said. “Dogs just make you feel good. When Rhythm walks in a room, kids just light up.”
She attributes the success of the program to the non-judgmental and non-confrontational attitudes of dogs.
“The dogs won’t make judgments about how well you are doing (reading). They are just going to be there for you,” Mills said. “They lick you or may fall asleep, but they make you feel good.”
Although she utilizes her labs for therapy, Mills does not spend time analyzing the statistics of their successes, but she knows that the therapy works.
“I just see it happen,” she said. “I know when I have Rhythm and Walker up there (at school) the kids want to come sit with them. I’ve seen it work and I know it works.”
A few weeks ago Mills and her granddaughter decided to expand their program to the library.
“Brenna (my granddaughter) has kind of helped me with the guide dog puppies,” Mills said. “We came up with something that could involve her in the therapy realm.”
Every Thursday, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Rhythm, Walker, Brenna and Mills sit at the library and listen as children read books to the dogs.
“We are hoping for some good things,” Mills said.
And so far, good things are happening.
Destiny Norman, a second grader at Glen Rose Elementary, read with Rhythm and Walker last Thursday.
“It’s fun,” Destiny said.
In conjunction with a canine adventure, Destiny also went on a reading adventure of her own.
“Destiny had never been to the public library before,” Mills said. “She ended up getting a library card.”