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Tales with a tail: Dachshund helps youngsters read

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
June 8, 2009
— Tabby's had quite enough adventure for one dog's lifetime.

The dachshund mix was just a pup when she went flying through the air, thrown from a car, with the rest of her siblings.


Only Tabby survived.


That's the story Helen Burton was told when she got Tabby from K9 Lifeline Rescue about three years ago.


Despite the violence, Tabby always has been a mellow dog, Burton said. That's why she makes an ideal helper at Janesville's Jackson Elementary School.


Tabby—her formal name is Tabitha—is a reading dog. She sits patiently as children read to her, and she's become a school-wide celebrity since she began her work in the fourth quarter of this school year.


Burton said she took Tabby to her summer school class last year and noticed how good she was with the kids.


"Somebody suggested I take her for the certification, and she's been great," Burton said.


Burton teaches kids with learning and emotional problems. Those kids sometimes find it hard to settle down, much less puzzle out the meanings of words on a page.


Learning to read can be stressful for any child, especially if it's in front of peers. But dogs don't judge. They just sit there patiently, snuggling and accepting the affection of those around them.


Therapy Dogs International examines the dogs and registers them if they pass tests in safety, health and temperament. Reading Education Assistance Dogs provides the theory, which, simply stated, is that reading to a dog overcomes the fear a child might have at trying something new.


Fourth-graders interviewed in Burton's classroom last week agreed Tabby makes a difference.


"It's relaxing," said fourth-grader Shawn Olson.


"It helps me read better," said fourth-grader Josh Ruch. "I like the dog so much."


"She listens, and she follows the book," said fourth-grader Jessie Perez.


"It relaxes the kids, and studies show it lowers kids' blood pressure," Burton said.


Kids with short attention spans are able to finish books. "That in itself is a feat," Burton said. Some who were reluctant to read at all now are into chapter books.


Tabby does more than just sit there.


She seems to know when children are upset, and she tries to help, by nudging or "kissing" them, Burton said.


Burton was a limited-term employee this year, filling in for another teacher, and she hasn't been hired for the coming year. She's hoping a position will come open before September.


But no matter what happens, Jackson School might still feature canine learning next fall. Other teachers have noticed Tabby's success, and they're talking about getting dogs registered in hopes of using them more extensively next school year.


Burton said she just hopes she's started something that will help kids learn.


Web site helps fund reading program

Teacher Helen Burton needed help with her dog-reading program, so she applied to DonorsChoose.org.


The nonprofit Web site matches teachers' classroom needs with anyone who wants to help.


Burton asked for $777 to pay for low-level, high interest books, cushions, pillows or seats to sit on and a bookshelf.


U.S. Cellular saw the request and decided to fund the project, dubbed "Tales with Tabby."


For more information, go to www.DonorsChoose.org.

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