How dogs help Cumberland County kids learn to read Skilled listeners let kids find their way without judgment

Several kindergarteners at St Patrick’s Catholic School in Fayetteville gather around Mr. Gibbs, a golden retriever who is helping them with reading skills. COURTESY OF JIM LASLEY



Dogs are known as man’s best friend, check out what this golden retriever is accomplishing, in this article by Jim Lasley. 

Meet Mr. Gibbs, a 5-year-old golden retriever skilled in hunting, tracking, obedience – and helping youngsters learn to read.

His handler-owner, Terrie Leafstedt, a 59-year-old resident of Hope Mills, 73 miles southeast of Raleigh, volunteers in parochial, private and public schools in Cumberland County every other week. She and her dog help about 30 or 40 youngsters per month with reading.

The Leafstedt Team learned its skills through Therapy Dogs International by passing a course of learning and testing that determines whether dog and handler are suitable for working with adults and children in unusual circumstances.

“The reading program encourages children to read by providing a nonjudgmental listener and furry friend to read (to) that won’t laugh at them if they make a mistake or stumble over a word …,” according to the TDI website. “The children learn to associate reading with being with the dog and begin to view reading in a positive way. Over time, the child’s reading ability and confidence can improve because they are practicing their skills, which will make them enjoy reading even more.”

Leafstedt says Mr. Gibbs achieved therapy and reading dog status by demonstrating “he would politely sit, stay and come when called, that he was not aggressive with people or other dogs, that he would not react to loud noises, and in other words, he would behave and do what he was told. Mr. Gibbs acts as if he is listening to the reader by moving his eyebrows and placing his paw on the book,” she said. “A dog changes the mood of a room. The kids are much more relaxed and calm.”

Dr. Barbara Sherman, a clinical associate professor at the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine, spent several years taking her rescue dog, a retriever mix, into the classrooms of Moore County Schools.Read more.

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