The dogs are trained through Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy, an organization that works with trained, registered therapy dogs to help people, especially children and those with special needs, to improve their health, activities of daily living and quality of life.
Twice a month, four adults from Rainbow Assisted Animal Therapy bring their certified therapy dogs to be read to by Washington students. Students bring books and other reading materials (poetry, alphabet charts, articles) that they are comfortable reading, and sit and cuddle with one of the dogs while they read. Each student/dog pair is supervised by one of the Rainbow Reading Dogs staff. In addition, a Washington staff member is in the room to supervise at all times. Near the end of their 15 minute session, the handlers allow the students to pet the dogs and have the dogs do tricks for them. When their 15 minute session is over, 4 other students arrive to have a session with the dogs. Jessica Martinsen, a reading specialist at Washington who coordinates the Reading Dogs program explains, “Students in grades K-2 who are emergent readers who can benefit from a supportive experience reading to non-judgemental therapy dogs”.
In addition to the reading students, students in the two self-contained special education classes at Washington School also benefit from interacting with the Rainbow Therapy dogs. According to special education teacher Janet McMahon, “The dogs provide a very calming experience for our children. We work on being still and quiet with the dogs, some kids work on getting over their fear of dogs, they groom them, feed them and take them on walks. It is soothing and a wonderful opportunity for the students to calm their bodies and minds. They love it.”
For more information on the Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy program, visit https://www.rainbowaat.org/