Huge thanks to Alyson Beecher for helping me celebrate HELLO GOODBYE DOG and real reading dogs with an interview of Nancy George-Michalson, Founder and Executive Director of New York Therapy Animals, here on Kid Lit Frenzy!
MG: Can you briefly tell us about the Reading Education Assistance Dog® (R.E.A.D.®) program and its mission, as well as its connection to New York Therapy Animals?
NGM: (R.E.A.D.®) Reading Education Assistance Dogs® is a children’s literacy support program. It is the 1st and foremost comprehensive reading to therapy dogs program designed and launched in 1999 at Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA) in Salt Lake, UT.
R.E.A.D. is a copyrighted world-wide program utilized in schools and libraries to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of trained, registered and insured therapy animal teams as literacy mentors. New York Therapy Animals is the official New York City R.E.A.D. affiliate with a partnership with the Department of Education, the NY Public Library and the Brooklyn Library.
MG: How did you initially become involved in the New York Therapy Animals Association, and how long have you been its Executive Director?
NGM: I am the founder of New York Therapy Animals in 2015, a not-for-profit 501(c)3, New York City based charity organization. We are the New York City affiliate of Intermountain Therapy Animals with 140+ therapy dog teams. Our mission is dedicated to bringing animal resources to human needs in healthcare facilities and to children in schools and libraries. Our animal-assisted interactions community programs serve people of all ages in various socio-economic matters in areas of physical, occupational, speech and psychotherapies and special education. Environments and lives are transformed by sharing a distinctive, attentive and compassionate kind of healing through supportive volunteer advocates and their therapy animals to those in need.
MG: How do dogs help kids improve their reading skills?
NGM: Trained R.E.A.D. handlers assist with communication and social skills, fluency and comprehension in a non-judgmental school and library setting. R.E.A.D. is a great motivator with a strong academic influence for children and assists to touch tackle the nervous aspect of reading. Learning to read is often less about intellectual limitation than about overcoming fears. Fear can be debilitating. The program focuses on children K-3rd grade but is equally successful for students with special needs, physical, emotional and intellectual disabilities and ESL students. This is the HEART of R.E.A.D.: It’s the connection between the child and the handler and their dog that makes it so powerful; without it, nothing much will happen. It is personal.
The R.E.A.D. program is a huge success in our school. We are an elementary school in East Harlem. Many of the students are very poor and many have emotional or learning disabilities. The R.E.A.D. program has been a great motivator for children with emotional regulation issues, a strong academic influence for children with learning disabilities and also teaches humane treatment of animals as well as social skills. The children often ask when the therapy dogs are coming and get prepared by choosing a book to read to them as well as making positive behavioral choices to be a part of the program. Patricia Foley, LCSW PS102 Jacques Cartier School NYC
MG: What kind of training must a dog undergo before s/he can serve as a R.E.A.D. team? Can you also explain the difference between a therapy dog and an assistance or service dog?
NGM: The New York Therapy Animals educates both ends of the leash in a 2 part education program: therapy dog training classes and a one day handler workshop. We also offer continuing education courses.
The next step is the evaluation process called the team screening. The handler and their dog are evaluated for appropriate skills and temperament, the strength of their relationship as an advocate for their dog along with social interactions skills. There is an application process including the veterinary health and medical screening. Once completed and the team receives their ID badges, they are then an authorized, licensed and insured volunteer team.
Our teams will then have liability insurance to become a R.E.A.D. team. This process requires an additional education course to become a lifetime member of R.E.A.D.:
1. Attend a R.E.A.D. workshop
2. Additional skills training
3. Complete the registration application.
We do not train dogs to be emotional support dogs or for service dog work. A service dog is a dog that performs a task for the person with a disability. We are a therapy animal organization training people and their pets to help others. A therapy dog does not have the privileges and access as that of a service dog and the American Disability Act (ADA).
MG: What kinds of places do you visit with the R.E.A.D. teams?
NGM: New York Therapy Animals has a partnership with the NYC Department of Education and the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Library. Our R.E.A.D. teams participate in this program in many schools and libraries.
MG: Do you have a favorite anecdote to share that epitomizes how a R.E.A.D. team can inspire a child?
NGM: I received a beautiful letter from a little girl telling me how my therapy dog, Callie, and I helped her. She wrote, “You and Callie have taught me a few things. 1. You have helped me build my courage to read aloud. 2. Callie has helped me build my courage with dogs. Here’s how. When I first met Callie, I was scared. You told me to pet her. With you and Callie’s help, you told me dogs are not scary. You helped me understand Callie was trained, and she wouldn’t hurt me. Thank you for your support to me. I’ll always remember you!”
MG: You must be a dog lover—can you tell us about your own dogs? Are they trained R.E.A.D. dogs too?
NGM: My Toy Poodle, Callie, changed my life. Our therapy dog volunteer career began in 2005 visiting a nursing home, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Ronald McDonald House-New York and we became a R.E.A.D. team. Callie’s personality and disposition along with my commitment and eagerness to share her with others became my mission. Volunteering is not a casual undertaking and we were serious about our responsibilities as well as having the most fun time together on visits. I called our work “Serious Fun!”
In 2012, Melodie, my 4 ½ lb. Toy Poodle came into my life and we became a registered ITA and R.E.A.D. team. My husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I believed that adding a new dog to our family would be helpful in capturing his attention. I had asked him if he wanted a new puppy for his big birthday and he said, “We have so much love for Callie that we have more love to give a new dog.” As the years went by our dogs were instrumental in helping my husband in his everyday life to be calmer and less agitated and lowering his stress levels.
Callie and Melodie and I carry on our volunteer team work in memory of my husband which is the real reason that I founded New York Therapy Animals. The human-animal bond is a gift that we share and appreciate and love so much. We know we are making a difference in people’s lives.
MG: That is so true, Nancy!! I love writing about the importance of the human-animal bond in my books. To do this in memory of your husband is a lovely and meaningful thing too!
Thank you so much for joining me here, and thank you again, Alyson for helping with the HELLO GOODBYE DOG celebrations!
About the author: Maria Gianferrari is the author of the Penny & Jelly books, Officer Katz and Houdini, Coyote Moon, an ALA Notable Book, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and most recently, Hello Goodbye Dog. For Maria, hello is sunshine after a snowstorm, the scent of cinnamon, and happy greetings from her beloved mutt, Becca. Maria lives in northern Virginia with her scientist husband, artist daughter, and Becca. She has additional titles forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Boyds Mills Press, GP Putnam’s Sons and Little Bee. To learn more about Maria, visit her website: mariagianferrari.com, on Facebook and Instagram.
New York Therapy Animals, Inc.
215 East 68th St. Suite 33B New York, NY 10065
For more stops on the blog tour:
HELLO GOODBYE DOG BLOG TOUR!
GIVEAWAYS EVERY DAY!!
*Monday, July 24th: Pragmatic Mom + THREE book giveaway!
*Wednesday, July 26th: Homemade City
*Thursday, July 27th: Kid Lit Frenzy
*Friday, July 28th: Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
*Monday, July 31st: Picture Books Help Kids Soar
*Tuesday, August 1st: Bildebok
*Wednesday, August 2nd: The Loud Library Lady
*Thursday, August 3rd: DEBtastic Reads!
*Friday, August 4th: Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love
*Monday, August 7th: Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)
EXTRA: August 25th: Kidlit411—Interview with Patrice Barton