Special Needs Parenting :: Katy canine goes to school - Chron

It feels like show and tell at The Parish School in west Houston.

A group of about 10 kids between the ages of 6 and 8 surround Katy resident Carey Handley and her chocolate Labrador, Godiva.

"Is she a real dog?" asks one boy.

Another boy asks if the dog is brown and another asks if he can pet the dog.

"You can pet her and give her hugs," says Handley.

Godiva wears a tag that says, "Ask to pet me, I'm friendly."

The children have all created welcome cards for Godiva.

One reads, "I like you Godiva because you are great."

Handley and Godiva are part of a program at the school to help kids with language and learning differences. The pair have been visiting the school since November. The school, which was established 29 years ago by a speech and language therapist, now has 141 students from preschool to the fifth grade.

Handley comes to the school once a week for up to two hours.

"I tell Godiva that we are going to work," says Handley.

In the summer Handley started therapy dog training through Katy's Tender Loving K9's so that Godiva could work with special -needs children.

Tender Loving K9's began four years ago when co-founder Sharon Evans found that there were no therapy dog services in Katy.

Today, 13 dogs visit Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital, nursing homes and local libraries.

"When our dogs are being used as therapy dogs, they provide comfort, companionship and unconditional love," says Evans.

"Stroke patients will most often speak their first words to the dog and work hard to move arms and hands to pet the dogs," says Evans.

Handley, too, has seen the positive effects of therapy dogs at The Parish School.

"There was an autistic boy who came over to Godiva and ended up hugging her," says Handley. "I nearly cried."

Handley felt a special connection to The Parish School because her daughter, now 17, attended for two years.

"Having a child with special needs endeared me to working with kids like this because I know the kids struggle," says Handley.

She wishes there had been a therapy dog at the school when her daughter attended to help with her dyslexia.

A one-on-one program began this month, where kids can meet with Handley and read to Godiva for 20 minutes. The pair went through a program called Reading Education Assistance Dogs, to train Godiva to assist kids with their reading skills.

The goal is to help the kid gain more confidence.

"If they make a mistake the dog doesn't know," says Librarian Jill Wood. "Petting the animal motivates the child to talk more and that is so valuable, and Miss Godiva sure is motivating."

The hope is that the kids will find joy in reading through working with Godiva.

"Reading isn't always fun for the kids, so if you can make it fun it's better," says Wood.

"When you start kids now you help them with their future educational career," adds Handley.

Handley says that if other owners want their pets to become therapy dogs, they would need to go through training to ensure they are comfortable around wheelchairs and loud noises.

Evans adds that the personality of the dog has to be taken into consideration.

"If you feel your dog loves people and is obedient to you as a handler, then they should check the testing requirements of Therapy Dogs Inc."


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