There are many different organizations to get involved in throughout Chicago, but there is one that is particularly special to one of the doctors here at Blum. Dr. Bridget Sheehan volunteers with her 2-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Darby, with Sit Stay Read. This non-profit organization helps children in Chicago Public Schools develop their social skills, confidence and create excitement about reading.
A little over 6 months ago, Darby achieved her “Canine Reading Assistant” certificate for Sit Stay Read. A large portion of the certification is based on the dog’s personality and how they react in a variety of situations. With multiple obedience and therapy dog training classes under her belt, this was a piece of cake for Darby! According to Dr. Sheehan, “Darby has a very special personality, she is an incredibly patient dog and loves connecting with people. She is unfazed by chaotic environments, and children that may not know ‘dog etiquette.’ Her BIGGEST challenge was learning that she is not allowed to sit on the children’s feet or lean against them to cuddle (as she is 120 lbs.!).”
This awesome duo volunteers once a week with a second-grade class at Lowell Elementary School in Humboldt Park. The impact that Dr. Sheehan has seen through Sit Stay Read is unbelievable. “Often times, students will give up on reading or writing because of low confidence, stress, and poor societal expectations,” Dr. Sheehan said. “With the therapy dogs, these obstacles melt away. The therapy dogs provide a judgement free listener, they can help lower cortisol and blood pressure levels, and they provide a motivating fun, positive classroom experience. I watch these students transform from not being confident enough to read a sentence out loud, to reading entire books out loud. I watch them go from writing one sentence on day one, to writing an entire creative short story in 8 weeks.”
Sit Stay Read was founded in 2003 by MaryEllen Schneider after she thought she had to retire her dog, Sandy, from working with children at Rainbow Animal-Assisted Therapy. MaryEllen realized she would be perfect to sit and read with children, no matter her age. With the help of Sarah Murphy and MK Czerwiec, Sit Stay Read was born. So, what started as helping to keep an older dog active turned into amazing non-profit that helps children in Chicago Public Schools learn to read.
For more information or to get involved (with or without a dog) with Sit Stay Read, click here.
Written for Blum Animal Hospital by Jackie Sheppard.