Editor’s note: Have you seen the Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our February-March issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
Books, children, and dogs — can you even imagine a better mix? I spoke with Roxy Reading Therapy Dogs’ President, Sharon Fleck, about the incredible work the group does.
Dogster: Could you tell us about your new book, Be Like Bud?
Sharon: We decided that we wanted our book to be an inspirational book for kids, highlighting all of the wonderful qualities that our amazing therapy dogs possess while at the same time encouraging children to emulate these characteristics.
It is written at the 3rd-grade level, but also appeals to adults. Each dog has their own spread with a quote about what makes them special and some fun facts about them too. We hope that circulation of this book will bring more awareness to our organization and our mission and, in turn, result in more volunteers and/or more people who would like to support us through donations, as we are a nonprofit 501(c)3, all-volunteer organization.
Dogster: What do you believe are the organization’s greatest achievements so far?
Sharon: We have achieved much in the last 11 years. We started with one dog in one class at one school and now we have over 70 dogs who visit over 100 classes a week in 13 elementary schools. We touch the lives of about 2,000 students every week through our Literacy For All program.
This program enables children in elementary school to read aloud to one of our therapy dogs in a calm, relaxed environment.
Another major accomplishment is the development of our Courthouse Therapy Dog program. This started almost six years ago at the request of Judge Mellon at the Bucks County Courthouse. He was aware of the calming effects of dogs on people who are anxious, scared, or stressed. We decided to start a pilot program where our dogs would go to court and accompany children who are there to testify before the judge in the Children and Youth program.
Our dogs literally stand beside these children as they tell the judge about their home life and what they are experiencing. This can be extremely intimidating and terrifying for a child, but having our dogs there really helps to put them at ease and makes them more comfortable in the court environment.
Here we are six years later, and as a result of that pilot program — the first in Pennsylvania, there are now 33 out of 67 counties that employ some type of courthouse therapy dog program. We have served as advisors for many of them.
With the success of the Courthouse Therapy Dog program through Children and Youth, we were then able to develop a similar program through the DA’s office where our teams (dog and handler/owner) go in to the safe room and comfort children who are victims of violent crime. This program is done in conjunction with NOVA (Network Of Victims Assistance) and our teams go through special training in order to be able to participate.
We also have been fortunate enough to initiate programs at Doylestown Hospital Pediatric Unit. Roxy Reading Therapy Dogs are the only therapy dogs permitted to visit the pediatric unit and we take that honor and responsibility very seriously. In addition, we visit children in group homes for children who are too medically fragile to live at home.
Our newest program is our High School Student Support program. Through this we are able to have the dogs visit with high school support groups here in Central Bucks School District and comfort them as they discuss the many stressors in their lives. We typically meet with Bereavement Support Groups, for students who have lost a loved one or someone close to them.
Dogster: How can Dogster readers help?
Sharon: Purchase Be Like Bud! All proceeds go directly into our programs. Tell a friend (or two) about our organization! Maybe they will be interested in volunteering with us or becoming a donor. For more information, go to roxyreading.org