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Therapy dog Charlie helping students with reading skills

April 12, 2021 | 12:10 am

Updated April 11, 2021 | 9:34 pm

Photo by Ryan Richardson

Charlie has become one of the most well-loved teacher’s assistants over the last year at Owensboro Innovation Middle School. Every Friday, the Doberman Pinscher graces the halls and classrooms of the school — but more importantly she helps comfort students who may be nervous about reading as they work to improve their literacy skills.

Charlie has been coming to the school as a therapy dog for more than a year, but she was recently certified as a Reading Education Assistance Dog. The mission of the R.E.A.D. program is to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as literacy mentors.

Though she spends some time visiting the classrooms throughout the building — with plenty of stops for treats from staff along the way — Charlie’s main stop is in a corner of the library, where she’s got a special blanket to sit on where students come to read.

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Charlie is there for comfort, while her owner and trainer Meggan Clark helps facilitate interaction with the student’s as a voice for Charlie.

“We started a program and got kids who were nervous about reading,” Clark said. “When you’re reading to a dog, it’s different. She doesn’t judge. She’s there to listen. I speak for Charlie. I’m not there for any other reason.”

While students read, Charlie may sit or stand next to the child. Sometimes she’ll even put a paw or her head in the student’s lap — always relaxed and listening. 

Clark said Charlie was trained specifically for the school environment, such as staying calm during a fire alarm or if children were all over her. 

Charlie and Clark are the fourth R.E.A.D team in Kentucky. Charlie is also the first purebred Doberman Pinscher in in the R.E.A.D program at this time — the coordinator actually had to add her breed to the list for the program, Clark said.

“I’m so excited for her breed,” Clark said. “Dobermans get a bad reputation. The kids have learned instantly it’s not the breed, it’s how they are trained.”

Charlie has also helped with other projects beyond reading, always providing an extra sense of comfort and support to those who are near.

“It’s about bringing education to life,” Clark said. “I can’t tell you how many kids have been like, ‘I didn’t want to come to school today but then I remembered it was a Charlie day.’ She’s their listener. We definitely put her to work here.”

Charlie typically only comes to school once a week except for a handful of other special events. Clark said that’s by design, as she wants the students to appreciate the experience.

“We want to keep her as something special, something exciting, something to look forward to at the end of the week,” Clark said. “If she was here every day I think it would lose that feeling. It’s special for her too. When she hears her vest move on those mornings, she is at the front door pawing, ready to work.”

April 12, 2021 | 12:10 am

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