Dog brings out kids’ love of reading

May. 23, 2014 @ 09:54 AM

Mark Pennell struggled to sound out the words on the page in “Gus Loses a Tooth.” Reading is still difficult for him, and his voice could barely be heard over the sound of music and people talking on the front lawn of Lower Creek Elementary School on Thursday evening. But immediately around Pennell, it was quiet and calm, because Clementyne, the therapy dog, was there to comfort Pennell through his big reading debut.

Clementyne is a therapy dog that specializes in helping children read and, through that reading, gain self-confidence. Part of the Tail Waggin’ Tutors program, Clementyne and her owners, the Tiffany family of Lower Creek, visit classrooms and help students learn to read out loud. The reddish lab mix was certified through Therapy Dogs International this past March, said owner Kelly Tiffany.

While Pennell has no dogs at home, he said he felt comfortable around Clementyne, who patiently listened to the same story again and again. Pennell’s best friend, Kyleigh Neal, who also read “Gus Loses a Tooth,” said she had a fun time reading with Clementyne at her side.

“(The book) was about a rhinosaur losing a tooth,” she said, flashing a grin of missing teeth.

Principal Leigh Ann Frye said that Clementyne can work wonders because she is trained to place her paw on students and encourage them to stay relaxed, even while speaking in public.

As each student took a turn, parents gathered around with iPhones and cameras to take a photo of their child reading with Clementyne. Frye said the Tail Waggin’ Tutors event was also a great way for parents to connect with each other.

A few booths were set up in the lawn, with free ice cream donated by Food Lion at one and with another boasting the first place trophy from this year’s Battle of the Books in the elementary school division. At the same table as the trophy, two sets of books were displayed, “Gus Loses a Tooth” for kindergarten through second grade and “Tuck Everlasting” for third through fifth grades, for children to take home for free. Each book came with activities that students could do at home and bring back to school.

Arwen Tiffany, Kelly Tiffany’s daughter, read “The Day the Crayons Quit,” which she said is her favorite book. Although she has no problem reading, she volunteered to help out her mom and be an example to the kids.

“It was exciting,” Arwen Tiffany said. “I was glad I did that. I love reading.”