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Therapy dog brings comfort, listening to Concord’s Beaver Meadow School

  • Students play with Jake the Boykin Spaniel at Beaver Meadow School in Concord on Thursday, May 1, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff)
  • Jake, a 4-year-old Boykin Spaniel, watches as Carmen Ahern reads her dog book at Beaver Meadow School in Concord on Thursday, April 30, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff)
  • Jake, a four-year-old  Boykin Spaniel watches as Carmen Ahern reads her dog book at Beaver Meadow school Thursday, April 30, 2014

Pets are known to lighten our moods and lower our stress, blood pressure and anxiety.

Hailey Pinette, a kindergartner at Beaver Meadow Elementary School in Concord, liked the therapy dog visiting her classroom earlier this week for other reasons.

He is fluffy.

He is nice.

He is a good listener, Hailey said.

She had just finished a reading session with Jake, a 4-year-old Boykin Spaniel who will visit the classroom monthly to give students an attentive audience to boost confidence in their reading ability. Yesterday marked Jake’s second visit to Beaver Meadow, where he met with two kindergarten classes. Jake doesn’t bark and he doesn’t interrupt the students, allowing them to focus instead on their pronunciation and reading. The visits complement the existing reading curriculum, teacher Margaret Barry said.

“It just gives kids a calm opportunity to read without judgment and without well-intentioned grown-ups intervening,” Barry said. “We all do our best not to, but it’s tough.”

Barry arranged Jake’s visits to the school this winter with his owner, Patricia Manso.

The boost in confidence Jake provides will hopefully be carried over to out-of-classroom reading as their skills sharpen, Barry said.

“He’s so mellow. They are into reading now, and they know what to do. The first time it was a little more unsettled because they weren’t used to reading,” Barry said. “Now they have the process down and it’s great.”

After a brief question-and-answer session with Manso the 15 students grabbed a book of their choice and sat down to read. Jake, who is chocolate brown and weighs about 40 pounds, mulled between classmates, resting for a few minutes by the side of each student.

He plopped down next to Bianca Hemund, who was reading The Little Turtle. He is helpful while reading, Bianca said.

“Because he likes us. Because he is special,” Bianca said.

The boon provided by therapy dogs isn’t new to Beaver Meadow, where until several years ago the school had a black lab visit and work with special education students.

Bolstered by studies linking the positive effects of animal interaction, therapy dogs are gaining popularity at colleges, where they are often brought in during final exam week. War veterans also use therapy dogs to help deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Soon after Manso got Jake as a puppy, she began bringing him to the nursing home where her mother lives. He was comfortable as soon as he walked in, Manso said. “He was good with people with wheelchairs, crutches and canes. I thought maybe we could continue with this and bring him into the schools. I’d love to be able to get into hospitals,” Manso said. “He is just a very mellow guy.”

Jake recently returned from South Carolina – where the Boykin Spaniel is the state dog. There, he continued training to become a certified therapy dog. He must complete one class and pass a test that requires he remain calm in noisy or stressful situations.

“Since they are this mellow, it’s kind of nice to have them around children. He likes to sniff and he will get up and walk around. But basically, this is what you see,” she said, gesturing toward Jake, who was plopped on the ground under her chair.

After Jake heard all 15 kids read for a few minutes, the students were asked to write about what they learned by reading to him. They were also asked to draw a picture of Jake, who will return next month.

“The hope is that he is going to branch out into other venues, because he is just getting started in the therapy business,” Barry said.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

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