Therapy Dog Helps Kids Talk, Read

Boo is a 12-year-old black lab mutt who has a learning disability. It took over two years to learn to “sit” and “stay,” but now he’s working miracles left and right. Lisa Edwards is Boo’s trainer, and suffers from dyslexia. She authored the memoir, A Dog Named Boo: How One Dog and One Woman Rescued Each Other—and the Lives They Transformed Along the Way.


The very thing that had made people label Boo as ‘stupid’ is exactly what has made him so helpful to children who also suffer from learning disabilities. Marc Oliviere was a 6-year-old suffering from selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that occurs when people won’t speak up in certain—or any—situations. Marc had never said a single word.


But when he started going to a new program for kids with learning disabilities, Marc’s teacher, Penny Weiser, decided that dog therapy might be able to help him come out of his shell.


“I thought, ‘Maybe the healing power of an animal would help Marc get the words out,” she said. She was right.


Once a week, Edwards and Boo came to class. Edwards explained to the children that Boo had a learning disorder. “I could see the kids making the connection that boo had disabilities—just like them,” she said.


Edwards watched as Marc hugged Boo, snuggling against his fur and mouthing “Good boy.” When Marc got home, his mother, April, could tell he was excited. She asked if something had happened at school, and it was then that Marc uttered his first words in front of her.


“Boo,” he whispered, and then continued louder, saying, “I petted him! I brushed him! I love him!” He retrieved a Scooby Doo toy from his room and acted out the therapy session for his mother.


“It was as if a door had opened and we could finally see what was inside,” she said. “Thank goodness for Boo—that dog is a miracle worker.” Marc continued to grow and become more social, and he’s now back in mainstream classes and has his own dog.


But Boo’s work is far from over. He and Edwards also volunteer at the Mahopac Public Library’s Animal Reading Friends (ARF), a program that helps children suffering from dyslexia, stuttering, or shyness learn to read better by reading aloud to therapy dogs like Boo. Children don’t feel so anxious in front of the animals, who always know how to help them relax—with a snuggle, a sniff, or a wag of the tail.


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