We need to talk about Charlie

I just have to say a few words about my dog Charlie, the incredible therapy dog.

As I’ve written before, Charlie and I are volunteers with St. John Ambulance. We’ve been visiting at a local retirement home for the last two years and a special needs class in a senior public school for the past year. Charlie is always excited to pay a visit; he loves the attention, he makes everyone laugh, he gets belly rubs, and his tail never stops wagging. Pure doggie bliss.

We also participate in a popular reading program with the Mississauga Library System, called “Paws4Stories.” Here’s how it works. Kids who are having a hard time with reading aloud, for whatever reason, can sign up for the program at their library. They come to the Children’s Department and read aloud to a dog, who sits or lies beside them or near them or in their lap, while they read a story of their choosing (usually dog-related of course!) It is a completely supportive, non-interfering, non-judgemental environment for the child, and heaven for the dog. 

The first time we did this was very exciting. We went to the Erin Meadows Library which is in a busy community centre. We had to walk through hordes of people waiting to get into the pool, or on their way to other activities in the building. By the time we got to the library, Charlie was already very stimulated, and then the library itself… (Have you been to a local library lately, and in particular a Children’s Department? It’s bright and open, filled with active kids, and it is very noisy!) We were shown to a beautiful little area filled with colourful toys and bean bag chairs, with many, many windows. (Nice and low of course, just right for short people and dogs). Charlie enjoyed himself exploring, but then we had to sit down and try to ignore the world around us while a sweet little girl read us a Scooby-Doo book. He didn’t do too badly, but I did have to help him “refocus” several times!

By November, our third time around, Charlie was an old hand. He was very happy to be there, but seemed relatively calm. A lovely young girl came and sat with us and she and Charlie clicked immediately. He snuggled up beside her and didn’t stir once while she read. She gently stroked his side and belly with her left hand while she held the book with her right. The two of them were off in their own world and I simply sat and listened, entranced by her voice and the sight of her and Charlie so connected. She must have read for almost half an hour but the time flew by and Charlie didn’t move until it was time to stop. Wonderful.

I enjoy all the visiting with Charlie and believe that he does a lot of good, with his goofiness, his friendliness, his curiosity, and his indiscriminate affection. I love visiting the older people at the retirement home and the young students with special needs, and Charlie seems to enjoy it too. If he can make a difference in someone’s life by interacting with them, I’m glad to be part of that. And if he can help an early reader start to realize all the joy of reading that is waiting, then I am ecstatic.

If you have a dog and have considered volunteering, think about the Therapy Dogs Program. What better way to volunteer than with your own lovable dog? It simply can’t be beat. 

Oh, and one last thing. Charlie was just awarded a certificate for completing over 75 visits. Pretty good work for someone who’s only four years old!