Therapy dog serves as Greenfield students’ reading buddy
Abby Ortiz, a third-grade student at Newton School, reads to therapy dog Emma Pickle handled by her owner, Marianne MacCaffrey. (Recorder/Paul Franz) Purchase photo reprints »
GREENFIELD — Third-grade students at Newton School who work hard in their classes get rewarded with 15 minutes of reading time with Emma Pickle.
The golden retriever is a certified therapy dog and reading buddy who visits the Greenfield elementary school weekly with her trainer, retired Greenfield teacher and reading specialist Marianne MacCaffrey. Students go one at a time into a private room to read out loud and pet the dog.
The reading buddy program, organized by the Westhampton-based Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, aims to give confidence to beginner readers and improve the fluency of advanced students. There are 10 certified dog-handler teams across western Massachusetts, including two in Franklin County: in addition to MacCaffrey and her dog, John Lankarge and his dog, Lilly, visit Sunderland and Whately elementary schools.
“Emma Pickle is the perfect reading buddy,” said Newton School Principal Melodie Goodwin. “She listens without judgment and provides positive feedback with the wag of a tail or tilted head.”
And although MacCaffrey’s main job is to bring Emma Pickle into the school, she also gives students reading tips as well.
Cynthia Hinckley, founder and president of the 10-year-old therapy dog organization, said that many retired educators, including herself, are now part of reading buddy teams. Since the ready buddy program was launched in 2012, more and more schools across western Massachusetts have asked the organization for a team to be sent to their facilities, she said. There’s no charge for the schools.
But the amount of reading buddy teams depends on the number of dogs that are certified to work with children in schools, said Hinckley.
About 200 dogs from across New England have gone through therapy dog training with the organization. But from there, dogs and their handlers have to go through an additional session to become a reading buddy — where they’re brought in front of children to see how they respond.
MacCaffrey and Emma Pickle went through the training in 2013. In addition to the Greenfield school, the dog also routinely visits The Arbors assisted living homes.
Emma Pickle knows she’s working when her blue vest goes on, said MacCaffrey. It means she can’t be distracted by things going on around her, has to be mild-mannered and can’t eat things that are on the floor.
She’s been a social dog ever since she was a puppy, said MacCaffrey, who said the golden retriever “must have been a politician in a past life (because) she likes to ... say hello to people.”
Hinckley said that a six-week therapy dog course in Greenfield, taught by the local dog training school NB Productions, will begin sometime in spring and will cost $135. For more information, go to: www.bright-spot.org.
You can reach Chris Shores at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 264