Groucho, a Patient Listener, Teaching Children to Read
Groucho is a yellow Labrador retriever owned by Josie Gavieres, who is the power between BARK Therapy Dogs based in Long Beach, California.
When Josie’s son was a young teen, he suggested to his mother that they should become puppy raisers for a local guide dog organization. They did, successfully fostering six puppies that then went on to school. Groucho was their last, and though he, too, attended the school’s training program he didn’t qualify for guide dog work.
“No one could teach him to not mark his territory, and that can’t be a behavior that remains with dogs used as guide dogs,” Gavieries says. She volunteered to take Groucho back, and he quickly passed the tests to be a therapy dog. With that, Gavieres began exploring how she and Groucho could help others.
“There was a national organization that was working in schools using dogs as reading partners for children. There were some complications with Groucho and mr getting involved with that organization, but I liked the concept,” she says.
“I decided I would simply start volunteering on my own. To her surprise, she found it a difficult sell. She called school after school until she found Bryant Elementary School in Long Beach, where the principal said, “Great. Come in.”
Program Has Grown Exponentially
That was seven years ago, and Gavieres now has more than 170 teams of volunteers and dogs who visit schools, libraries, and community centers.
“Children don’t like to be singled out as needing help, so we go into the schools with a specific explanation,” says Gavieres. “The children selected for the program are there to help the dogs. We tell them that these dogs also visit nursing homes and hospitals—which they do—and the dogs need to learn to settle down. The children’s job is to help reinforce good behavior by reading to the dogs so they will succeed in other environments.”
As part of the school program, volunteers are given suitcases with a selection of books at all different reading levels. Gavieres receives some grant money from local organizations, and has received some books via donation. She still draws no salary. To pay her own bills, Gavieres does medical transcription work at night.
At the end of the year BARK Therapy and the schools conduct an assessment. The schools report that 80 percent of the students improve their reading skills; 90 percent of them show an increase in class participation; and 95 percent of them show an increase in self-confidence.
For more details about the program, please see the full article, including a great story about a dog named Tank, in “Teaching Children to Read, With Help from Some Dogs.”
As for Groucho, he still goes out on school visits. Gavieres says he is happiest when he is surrounded by thirty children. “He doesn’t mind at all when someone wants to use his tail as a propeller.”