LUBBOCK, Texas –The librarian at Hodges Elementary school has found the perfect companion to help her students get excited for reading time. Their four-legged friend named Stella is a therapy dog. It’s all part of Lubbock’s ISD therapy dog program that has been growing over the past five years.
The school’s librarian Mary-Katherine Arias said Stella brings an invaluable presence into the classroom.
“With today’s culture, having you know so many distractions, it’s so easy to go on their devices or watch the tv,” Arias said. “So, bringing them back to Stella, and they think that she’s listening. She might be the first person that they think has listened to them all day. They’ll sit and read with her for 10 or 20 minutes, and not even just the older kids, but kindergartners and pre-K will sit and read to her. I think that that’s the best thing that she brings is that she allows the kids to feel listened to.”
Their furry friend has surely pawed her way into connecting with the children on a deeper level. Students said Stella makes every minute of reading time something to look forward to. She even promotes a sense of sharing as the children take turns getting to read their stories to her.
The program now has around 27 dogs in the program that provides emotional support in one way or another. And at least at Hodges Elementary school, these students can’t wait to step into their library and get their hands on a book.
Lubbock ISD’s Muttley Crew member Elizabeth Burns travels between schools with her companion named Thor. Burns said the program has expanded and grown over the last few years and has brought so much to the classroom.
“When we started this program, we wanted to try something a little different for kids that had that that were having a hard time always managing their behaviors. And so, we started with the dogs, to work with our counselors,” Burns said. “We wanted them to be able to help, like if a kid’s crying really hard, and maybe they need some support, and they don’t want a person to hug them, right, then Thor will go and lean against their legs.
“Once they put his arms around him, then he’ll lay down on the floor. And so that helps a kiddo feel secure and loved. And it allows us to give them their space because we’re still giving them the attention that they need by letting the dogs help out with them. And so that’s kind of Thor’s superpower. And that’s what he likes to do. He can also turn light switches on, and he thinks that’s funny,” Burns said.
The dogs in the program have gone through extensive training long before ever stepping foot in the classroom. Burns said the program is still looking to expand and be more involved with the community. For those looking to get involved or offer support visit their Facebook page at Lubbock IDS Muttley Crew.