The Article also spoke about just how great we are... I just wish Singapore's media isn't so bias towards us.
Rottweiler inspires kids to read
By JODELLE GREINER, Lifestyles Editor
— When most people think of a therapy dog, they think of a small breed dog, something that will fit on your lap. They don’t think of a Rottweiler.
They don’t think of Turbo.
It may take a little getting used to, seeing this big Rottweiler trotting down the halls of Valley View Elementary with his owner, Pat Crawford by his side.
Kids get all excited, “Hi, Turbo!” “Turbo’s here!” and they change course to pet the dog’s head or wrap their arms around his neck for a long hug.
Turbo takes it all in stride. He doesn’t mind the kids crowding around, petting him or draping themselves across his back. The only one he really seems to take note of is Crawford herself. After she’s told Turbo to sit or lay down amongst the children and walks a few feet away to sit down, Turbo’s eyes stay glued to her, oblivious to the children vying for his attention.
Turbo and his friend Max, a black flat-coated retriever owned by Marli Vieira, visited Valley View Elementary on Tuesday for the last time until September. Turbo and Max, along with Honey, a Labrador retriever owned by Joe Seale, have been visiting the school since March and Susan Smith, principal of pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, is thrilled.
“It’s been great. I would recommend other schools do this,” Smith said of the pilot program.
The program got started when Pat Crawford met her neighbor, Alan Kassen, who happens to be the president of the Valley View School Board. She explained what therapy dogs are and that she wanted to try doing in the schools what she had been doing in nursing homes.
Shortly after Turbo was certified as a therapy dog about a year ago, Crawford’s father, Ken Schroeder, was admitted to Pecan Tree Manor and she visited him with Turbo in tow.
“I saw what it meant to the residents,” Crawford said. “For some, the dogs are their only visitors.” Some families mention how helpful the dogs have been in reaching a loved one who has drifted away. “One resident didn’t talk, but he’d talk to Turbo, then he started talking to his family.” Some people have to give up their pets when they go into a nursing home and miss the furry contact, so Turbo can bring back a part of their lives they’ve lost.
Crawford wanted to teach the schoolchildren about dog safety and how to take care of their own pets. With some help from the American Kennel Club, she’s instructed the kids on how to approach a dog safely (always ask the owner first) and what to do if they meet a strange or aggressive dog (don’t look the dog in the eye and put your hands in your pockets).
She’s talked to the kids about responsible pet ownership, including helping them figure out how expensive it will be to care for a dog or show a dog in competitions.
Crawford has explained what service dogs are. Not only is Turbo a therapy dog, he’s certified in medical alert and mobility service, as well. He’s also an award-winning dog. On Friday, May 24, Turbo and Pat Crawford competed at the American Rottweiler National Show and brought home several awards, including the 2007 Bruce Billings Good Sportsmanship Award, the 2007 ANVIL T.R.U.E Award Therapy Work, the 2007 Volunteer of the Year, and the 2007 Top Ten Obedience Award.
“The dogs can be their best friend, but they need to be their dog’s best friend,” Crawford said.
The lessons have already sunk in, Smith said.
She’s noticed behavioral improvements in just the short time the dogs have been visiting. The kids want to take part when the dogs visit, so they make sure they behave so they don’t have to miss them. “A good reward system,” Smith noted.
Part of the dogs’ visits include the kids reading to them and it’s made a difference in the kids’ performance.
“Some of our reluctant readers are more comfortable reading to the dogs, even when their peers are present. The dog doesn’t laugh or make fun of them if they make a mistake,” Smith said.
That unconditional acceptance is quite noticable in the special education class, according to Suzette McAfee, special ed teacher.
“Sometimes my kids are reluctant to read because it’s difficult for them, but they’re excited to read to (Turbo) and that makes all the difference in their performance,” McAfee said.
“The learning disabled are not threatened by Turbo. When they read with Turbo, they get totally into it,” McAfee said. “I’ve let them teach him math lessons. It helps them to learn.
“It also helps the kids with emotional needs. He is totally their friend. There’s something that is calming when you’re petting him,” McAfee said. “One little boy can be having a difficult day and when Turbo comes, it can all turn around.”
In the very beginning, Smith said, one parent didn’t want Turbo around their child because he was a Rottweiler, but said they had no objection to the other two dogs. Smith thinks the concern came about because the child had a bad experience with a Rottweiler in the past, but all fears over Turbo’s breed have been laid to rest.
The kids have accepted the big black dog with brown markings so well that they celebrated Turbo’s third birthday with birthday cards and a party. They have also presented Crawford with a book “Turbo Goes to School” which includes illustrations hand-drawn by Mrs. Klement’s second grade class and depict Turbo riding a bus, reading, visiting the principal (presumably he wasn’t in trouble), eating lunch in the cafeteria and doing homework.
There are only three therapy dogs in Cooke County and Valley View is the only school they visit. Smith said Lindsay ISD has shown an interest in having the dogs visit.
Crawford is hoping to expand the number of therapy dogs in the area, too. VVISD Counselor Kathy Ramsey and about “seven or eight” others want to take the test to see if they and their dogs qualify to be therapy dogs and handlers.
“We’re learning things every week about how to make this better,” Ramsey said.
It’s not a walk in the park, Crawford warned. The dogs have to be tested for disposition, temperament and obedience. They must pass a canine good citizenship test. They will be judged on how they respond to loud noises, distractions, wheelchairs, canes and other apparatus. They must follow the commands they are given by their handlers.
Not all dogs make the cut. Crawford confided that she can’t use her 15-inch beagle as a therapy dog because she can’t pass the tests.
For those who think it’s strange that a Rottweiler made it as a therapy dog, Crawford said you shouldn’t be. Most Rottweilers have the same disposition as Turbo; irresponsible owners have given Rottweilers their bad reputation, she said.
She is all too aware Turbo faces prejudice because of his breed, but “it goes away the minute they meet him,” she said.
For more information about therapy dogs, contact Crawford and Turbo at email@example.com or Crawford’s dog trainer Cathy Niles in Woodbine at www.competitivedogtraining.com online.