0 Comments | Aug 27, 2011

Reading With Rover


We head into the school, True with her tail up and me trying to remember which room we were supposed to be in today.  Thursdays are our Reading With Rover day, the day True and I go to school and read with kids who are having trouble for one reason or another.  We’ve read with these three second graders twice before, but we are meeting in a new classroom today and I can’t remember the room number.

Fortunately, as we head confidently in the wrong direction, we come across the reading teacher and our three second graders on their way to the new classroom.  We fall in beside them and before too long, True is reclining comfortably on a beanbag with her head on a little boy’s lap.

Our last reader of the day is a little girl.  She talks cheerfully to True as she gets settled on the beanbag and selects her book.  I try to stay in the background as much as possible—this is supposed to be about the dog and the kids, so I help with words occasionally, or with interpreting True’s behavior, but other than that I let them interact on their own. 

As I watch, True sprawls beside the girl, her head hanging off the beanbag, pressed up tight against the girl’s leg.  The little girl pets True as she reads, lightly, quickly, keeping tempo with the words she reads.  Her movements are sharp, anxious, her fingers just grazing True’s coat.  True adjusts, head in the girl’s lap, sighing and exposing her belly for rubbing.

Our rule at Reading With Rover is when someone else’s hand is on your dog, your hand is on your dog.  This gives the dogs some support and allows the handler to monitor their dog’s comfort and stress level. I give True the belly rubs she’s asking for and, as True relaxes further, I see the petting begin to slow.

Gradually, the petting changes from quick and anxious to a heavier, calmer petting.  The words in the book are coming easier and asking for help on a word seems to be getting easier.  Much too soon our read time is up.  The girl kneels in front of True and pets behind her ears with both hands.  She leans forward to give True a hug, telling her what a good dog she is, smiling and relaxed.

Just then, the teacher interrupts, reminding the girl to thank me for bringing True in.  As she looks up, I meet her eyes and see the anxiety returning.  I smile and tell her she’s welcome, and let her get back to petting True.  I can see from the speed of the petting that the spell has been broken, somewhat.  For a few brief moments the world retreated and she was just a little girl with a dog.  Now the classroom is back, the teacher is back, the world intrudes again.  We leave with her a little less anxious than she was but me a little more heartbroken, knowing that it’s another whole week before we come back again.

As I put True in the car to go home, I give her an extra hug.  What a good dog.