A Letter from Dr. Lori
My first case of puppy love arrived in the form of a small, soft ball of white fur with brown spots and big dark eyes. His name was Patches.
The daughter of a Mountie, our family moved around a lot when I was growing up. The year I was in second grade, Patches was my only friend in a new town. When I came home from school each day during those first lonely few months, Patches would let me dress him up in my doll’s clothes. Every now and then he would wander off with his ears artfully tied in a high ponytail, pearls hanging around his neck. He followed me everywhere, my personal shadow of happiness and love.
Although I had to say goodbye to Patches when I was 18, it is only now that I am beginning to understand the role that Patches played in my development and in the fabric of my life. Over the past 20 years, I have worked with numerous children around the world as a classroom teacher, as a researcher, and as a community volunteer, and regardless of the context, I am struck by the seemingly instantaneous bond that many children have with animals.
The year that I began teaching elementary school, a little white Maltese-poodle named Tango came into my life. My second grade students were delighted the first time I brought Tango into our classroom. I negotiated a contract with them that if they could earn the letters to spell the words “Tango Time” by being kind and respectful to each other throughout the week, I would bring Tango into our classroom on Friday mornings – and this is when the magic began…
Researching organizations all over the world proved that many of my peers were discovering similar success with children reading with dogs. It was at this time that school rules changed; no more animals would be allowed in classrooms, but I couldn’t get the remarkable memory of my students’ engagement and interest in reading when they snuggled up and read to Tango out of my mind.
I still remember the sentence I wrote a short time later in my PhD application for the University of Alberta – it makes me smile in gratitude for what it launched: “It would mean the fulfillment of a dream to explore animal-assisted literacy learning (reading with dogs) programs with children as the focus of my doctoral research.”
Supported by two very generous recruitment scholarships, I began to realize that I was truly on the right path to making a real difference in children’s lives.
Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed is the culmination of a decade of research, informed by best practices in literacy education and two decades of teaching. It is a piece of my contribution to the larger conversation about understanding and nurturing the human-animal bond. It is my offer of help for what we can do to inspire children to love reading while valuing their connection with each other and with the natural world they will inherit. Together, we can help children to rediscover joy, purpose, and love of reading during valuable moments in connection with each other and with animals.
Dr. Lori Friesen