• 57°

Ruff-housing helps students in Suffolk

I’m never been more envious of my editor, Tracy Agnew, than when she got to meet a pack of dogs on Monday. It also helps that these dogs are both helpful and well-trained.

The dogs were brought to the Nansemond River High School auditorium Monday morning to visit about 30 students with disabilities. Suffolk Humane Society handlers showed off the abilities of their therapy dogs to these students.

There was owner Shelley Kuglin’s Appa, a big and fluffy Great Pyrenees. Fran Duman brought her Corgi named Teddy, Sue Corell had her Lhasa Apso named Bentley and there was also Joan Cary’s Dottie, an Australian shepherd.

All the owners in the auditorium on Monday were Suffolk Humane Society volunteers and Humane Education Committee members. Their dogs visit schools to help students become more comfortable around them and other dogs, and also to help them become more confident in themselves.

“They’re so well-mannered, but they’re also loving and they sort of get it,” Ginger Owen, a member of Humane Education Committee, said about the dogs in the Suffolk News-Herald report.

Owen emphasized how the B.A.R.K.S. (Books And Reading for Kids in Suffolk) program helps the students learn to read without fear of scrutiny

“The reading programs have been excellent. They’ll read to the dogs, because the dogs don’t correct them. It’s unconditional,” she said.

I’m a dog person — if it wasn’t painfully obvious already — and I’ve been enjoying seeing, reading and writing about the Suffolk Humane Society’s activities for the past few years — especially the B.A.R.K.S. program.

I grew up with dogs, a black lab named Shadey — Allen, my brother who at the time was in elementary school, gave her that spelling — and a Corgi named Baron. They were the sweetest companions you could have growing up. They were also surprisingly protective, as tiny Baron demonstrated by lunging on top of another dog three to four times his size.

It’s not hard to see how a well-raised dog can make a great reading companion for children, either. The kids get to read out loud and get better at it with each sentence. The dogs get more attention. It’s a win-win scenario.

The therapy dogs at Nansemond River on Monday are just the right kind of dogs for this job. They sat, stayed, high-fived and even pushed wheelchairs on command, then were rewarded with hugs and pets from the students.

“It’s hopefully to educate them to feel comfortable around the right dogs and how to act and approach dogs,” Owen said. “Hopefully, they will be advocates for animals as they grow up.”

Kudos to the Suffolk Humane Society for their efforts, and mark my words, I’ll be the first in line at the office to cover the next dog-friendly in Suffolk.