In late 2019 & very early 2020, Leezi and I took classes and became a certified therapy dog team and a certified READ team as of March. Whispers about the coming pandemic began at my home in Dec. 2019 (my husband was/is an infectious disease specialist) - and we were not surprised when society began to "shut down" in the first months of 2020. During that time, as the world shut down, I worked with the Association of Therapy Animals to have Leezi on screen for various nursing homes, etc. and that was her "therapy dog" experience for the rest of 2020.
In August of 2020, there was an on-line request from a parent for a R.E.A.D. Therapy Dog to work with a 15 year old autistic boy. He lived in Orange, NJ - but given the pandemic, it didn't matter where he lived/where I lived.
I volunteered Leezi, and we and Claude's mom have worked out a mechanism that works for him/them. I probably should add that I'm a retired RN (47 years working in hospitals) and have four sons [one of whom is "on the spectrum"] and thus have had some experience with autistic kids in schools and in health care settings.
We (CAREing Paws) have access to a terrific resource, Reading A to Z. (I assume that Melissa &/or Sandy have told you all about that!)
I pick two non-fiction books from that service each week and send them to Claude's mom. She chooses the one which she thinks will most interest him and/or which fits into his current studies, and emails me the choice. We then utilize Zoom (usually on Saturdays at 5:30 pm) for him to read to Leezi. I put Aleeza in front of the laptop, on the floor, and she listens to Claude read. Sometimes "Leezi" has questions about something Claude has read, and I interrupt Claude to ask a related, logical question "for her". It's still kind of random as to whether his answer shows that he's absorbed what he just read or not - which is the norm for many autistic kids. However, his reading is much smoother, less jerky, and his voice inflection (questions with tone rising, end of sentence with tone "finalized", etc.) MUCH better than when he began reading, as is his decoding/sounding out unknown words.
His teachers (per his mom) have noted improved fluency in his oral reading over the last nearly three years.
When Claude first began reading to Leezi, I started him at Level N, Grade 2, Lexile 530-810. Currently, Claude turned 18 this past April. He's reading at Level Q, Grade 3, Lexile 660-930. (And that knowledge is available thanks to Reading A - Z!)
visits with jean f. sandy weaver & henley
Jean F. had been a Siberian Husky breeder - showed and judged for decades. There was a therapy dog that was a golden retriever that would go and visit the facility but Jean F. had no interest in the dog.
One day, Henley and I were visiting the facility. We decided to pay a visit to Jean. As soon as she saw Henley her face lit up! She then proceeded to give a dog show examination and remembered how to do it. It was amazing, because she was able to stand up from her chair independently to give Helney an examination.
She had no language that we could understand, except she remembered her dog's name and pretended that Henley was her dog. The name of her previous dog was the only word we were able to understand.
Prior to visits, Jean F. didn't interact with people or dogs. Until Henley. It was evident that it made a difference in her life.
“My first therapy dog taught me the natural ability that a really good therapy dog has, and Henley my second therapy dog showed me the power and the difference a dog can make in a person's life.”