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Dog helps children to read, boosts confidence

By Staff | Apr 7, 2015

Sarah is a German shepherd/Akita mix who does many things other dogs do. She loves being petted, eats dog treats and helps teach children at Patriot Elementary School to read.

Oh yeah, and she plays cards with them, is an award-winner in her field and even “writes her own column.”

OK, so maybe she doesn’t do the things normal dogs do, but since 2008 she has helped children learn to read by merely listening to them, flipping the pages and by being completely non-judgmental.

Sarah is a service dog who has visited and inspired hundreds of elementary school students to become better readers.

This includes recently visiting students at Cape Coral’s Patriot Elementary.

Her owner, Deborah Morris, is a former school teacher who wanted to continue to help students after she retired from teaching in upstate New York.

She and her husband adopted the dog from an animal rescue in 2006 near their home in Rochester, N.Y.

“When I saw the personality of this dog, I knew what I wanted to do. I went to get her certified, they took one look at her and put her through the test immediately and she was ready for service work,” Morris said. “I can bring her to hospitals, nursing homes or schools.”

She came up with the idea of bringing Sarah into the classroom, so she brought the dog to a school in Niagara Falls with the help of a principal she knew, who introduced her to special ed teacher Diana Jeckovich.

“Diana welcomed me into her class and had students that could not even talk. But they would talk to Sarah,” Morris said. “Reading scores improved, and everything fell into place.”

Soon children began sharing their reading time with the dog, who would flip pages of the books they were reading.

Sarah and her family moved to Cape Coral in October 2011. Wanting to continue her volunteer work, she sent resumes to every school in the area. Only Diplomat School responded. When the person who hired Sarah transferred to Patriot over the summer, she went with her.

That’s where Morris met Annette Connelly, who now brings Sarah into her kindergarten class every Monday for about 90 minutes.

Connelly said many of her students are special needs kids and have blossomed since Sarah arrived.

“Those who aren’t confident in reading sit with Sarah and read to her to gain confidence,” Connelly said. “She listens and the kids give her a treat. They really think she’s listening.”

Sarah has been trained to flip sight cards and if they get the right answer, Sarah will flip one paw, which makes the kids think it’s a magic trick.

Sarah has been certified with Therapy Dogs International since 2009. Sarah has over 300 hours of service with schools and has been awarded the “Tail Wagging Tutor” award by TDI.

Sarah also has her own blog in which she talks about daily life from a dog’s perspective.

Morris said it is all those things that make Sarah the dog she is.

“She is a wonderful dog. You just talk to her and she understands everything you say,” Morris said. “She’s more like a little furry person.”