–by David Schleck
A 3-year-old English mastiff is attracting readers to Tallwood Elementary’s library. Students stop by to read to Hank in 15 minute increments. He listens patiently while they turn the pages of their favorite books.
“He likes to listen,” John Dooley said.
“He loves everybody,” Silas Bundy said.
“He likes to be read to,” Michaela Gamboa said.
Library Assistant Kim Barnes said Hank’s twice-a-month visits are a big hit with students and teachers. Her daughter-in-law, Melissa White, owns Hank and trains dogs for a living. Hank is certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, which provides testing, support and insurance for members who volunteer with their dogs in nursing homes, schools, cancer centers and other facilities.
A good therapy dog is at least 1 years old, has a calm and gentle disposition, and is attentive to its handler. Hank just turned 3 and weighs 170 pounds. Although Labrador retrievers and poodles are popular breeds for therapy dogs, White said she noticed Hank had a gentle spirit when he was a puppy, so she decided to pursue the training.
“Sometimes students will come into the library and they’ll be a little timid about reading,” White said. “But when they sit down with Hank, they relax. They know he likes to spend time with them.”
Parents fill out a permission slip if they want their children to visit with Hank, and White keeps him on a leash at all times. Principal Lisa Suter said having a therapy dog has helped students be excited about reading and feel comfortable at school.
“We all love him,” she said.