Adventures in Reading: “Hallelujah!”

Tavish with children's books

Beth Ellen* is nine years old and thinks Tavish is “reallllly silly…and I like silly.”  She’s a regular in reading to Tavish at the local library. Yes, when the Intrepid Pup isn’t off exploring parks, trails, and museums, he’s often going to senior living centers, schools, and libraries through a pet visitation program run by the DC-based non-profit organization P.A.L. (For a more comprehensive article on Tavish’s work as an AKC-certified Therapy Dog, click here.)

On this particular evening Beth Ellen is reading aloud from an illustrated chapter book she’d selected, and she’s adding considerable flair to the dialogue. So when the chapter ends with one of the characters exclaiming about an achievement, Beth Ellen delivers the line with similar gusto:  “Hallelujah!”  she shouts. Tavish chooses this precise instant to pop up with a full-body wriggle and give Beth Ellen a lick on the cheek.  She’s so enthralled by this reaction to her dramatic reading that she’s momentarily speechless.  She then grins widely and says, “I soooo want to say that word again, but I don’t know what’ll happen.” She reaches for Tavish’s collar, looks him in the eye and whispers, “Tavish, Hallelujah!”  And wouldn’t you know it? Tavish licks her again, tail now wagging at full speed. Beth Ellen dissolves into a fit of giggles repeating, “Hallelujah, Tavish. Hallelujah!” as he nuzzles her hair. It’s a safe bet that this moment is one Beth Ellen won’t soon forget and will always associate with the joy of reading.

This week—May 7-13, 2012—is Children’s Book Week (CBW). It promotes the notion that “children’s books and literacy are life-changers,” and if Tavish’s experiences with young readers are any indication,  it’s a pretty sound premise. CBW’s origins date to 1913, when librarian Franklin K. Matthiews toured the country proposing that publishers, libraries and booksellers support a Children’s Book Week as a way to encourage higher standards in children’s literature. By 1919 his vision had become a reality: CBW was an annual celebration well on its way to becoming the country’s longest-running literacy initiative. Today Every Child A Reader: The CBC Foundation coordinates CBW events in more than 40 cities from coast to coast to instill a lifelong love of reading.

Tavish has seen and listened to a LOT of children’s books. In the past year, more than 105 different children have read to him…even in Spanish! And because Team Tavish hears the stories, too, we’ve compiled a list (by no means intended to be exhaustive) of several that appeal to the Intrepid Pup’s mindset for adventure, are charmingly written, and beautifully illustrated…in other words, storybooks we don’t mind listening to time and time again:

  • A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
  • The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward
  • The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward
  • Frederick by Leo Lionni
  • Gaspard and Lisa at the Museum by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben
  • Hannah’s Collection by Marthe Jocelyn
  • Madeline’s Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
  • Miss Renée’s Mice by Elizabeth Stokes Hoffman
  • One-Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova
  • One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
  • Paddle to the Sea by Holling Clancy Holling
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • Rosebud and Red Flannel by Ethel Pochocki
  • Stuart Little by E. B. White

So, in the spirit of Children’s Book Week, grab a storybook and start reading. “Hallelujah!”

*Child’s name has been changed to protect privacy

Tavish Hears a Who

Dr. Seuss birthday reading celebrationA 1st grader peeped his head around the door, turned back to his classmates and proclaimed, “Hey! The dogs are here!”

Tavish, the Intrepid Pup, was making his way through the corridors of Stanton Elementary this afternoon to attend a birthday party. Not just any birthday party, mind you, but one in honor of beloved children’s book author Theodor Geisel (1904-1991), better known as Dr. Seuss.

Every year on March 2nd—Dr. Seuss’ birthday—the National Education Association does it up big with Read Across America Day, a nationwide reading celebration involving schools, libraries, and tons of kids. Today’s reading party at this DC public school was part of Stanton’s community partnership with People. Animals. Love. (P.A.L.), which runs PAL Club as a year-round, animal-centric enrichment program.

Dr. Seuss birthdayThe classrooms were hives of activity. 130 kindergartners through 5th graders could barely contain their excitement. Tavish’s role, along with five other dogs, was to “help” with the final after-school activities of the day. Tables were cleared to make way for scissors, staplers, paper plates and construction paper. The result? “Cat in the Hat” hats, of course! And then, armed with Dr. Seuss bookmarks, there was the chance to choose from an array of Dr. Seuss storybooks. Grinning from ear to ear, young Cheyenne* plunked down on the brightly spotted carpet to read Yertle the Turtle to Tavish, and it wasn’t long before her friends had gathered around. Out came Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Dante threw his arms around Tavish’s neck with glee. Next up was Dr. Seuss’s A B C, and D’Antwan balanced a red-and-white-striped Dr. Seuss hat on Tavish’s head. What fun it was to see the world momentarily come to a standstill and be all about Star-Belly Sneetches, the Lorax, Sam-I-am, and Horton, with kids giggling at the nonsense words. Pointing at the illustrations. Enjoying reading.

So, blow your floofloovers and bang your tartookas, spin your trumtookas and slam your slooslunkas!**
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

 

*Children’s names changed to protect privacy
**Excerpt adapted from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Dog Power: Tales of a Therapy Dog

 

Tavish's therapy dog work
The journey that is Tavish is ever-evolving. Though his muzzle now sports a few flecks of gray, people still ask the age of our “puppy.”  He has traded living in northern New England for the mid-Atlantic region. Now that his “backyard” includes the nation’s capital, the Old Dominion, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, Tavish’s intrepid pup escapades have grown to encompass national museums, monuments and Civil War sites. He has new regulars that he sees on his walks. There’s the mom with the young toddler who screeches in delight each and every time he passes. The guy who uses the loop road at the park to practice racing in his custom wheelchair and always coasts to a stop long enough to give Tavish a neck rub. Then there are the more spontaneous encounters like the random callouts from passersby of “Hey, pointer dog!” or “Vizsla!”  A banjo player on the boardwalk abruptly shifts his tune to “Hound Dog Blues” when Tavish strolls past. A homeless man approaches to pat Tavish on the head, says he’s sorry he doesn’t have a Milk-Bone® to give him, thanks Tavish for his time, and tells us to “have a blessed day.”

We’ve always thought that Tavish is special, but it has also become clear over the years that Tavish’s natural capacity for making other people happy is a gift that is easy to share.  And so in 2011, Tavish earned his official AKC Therapy Dog certification by volunteering with children and the elderly through a Washington DC-based organization that specializes in animal-assisted therapy.  He regularly visits seven different venues that include nursing homes, a center for emotionally-troubled youth, and several libraries. With the latter, children read aloud to Tavish to build their literacy skills, improve self-confidence, and foster enjoyment of reading. Many young readers participate simply for the novelty of reading to a dog that listens non-judgmentally. Others are recent immigrants and first-generation English speakers. Some are dyslexic or visit speech therapists. Still others are trying to overcome a fear of dogs.

So in volunteering, Tavish thus becomes an ambassador not only for his breed but also for dogs in general, and an outing with him typically involves fielding numerous questions about his traits, habits, and care. Within his first year of volunteering, Tavish had literally touched more than 200 lives: people of all ages, nationalities and creeds. Occasionally they speak foreign languages or are unable to speak at all.  Sometimes they are shy, lonely, or infirm. And so, Tavish’s story now intersects with many others’, often in the most astonishing of ways. Here are just a few:

Nine-year-old Patrick* has just met Tavish at the library. Seems like a good time to show off a new trick in Tavish’s repertoire:  balancing a biscuit on his nose for an instant before flicking it up and catching it in a lightning-quick blur. Tavish does it on cue, eliciting a hushed, “That’s AWESOME” from Patrick, who then reads Tavish a storybook and departs contented. Minutes later, Patrick returns with the librarian in tow. “I hate to interrupt,” she says, “But Patrick would like to know if it’d be all right to give Tavish a hug.”

Absolutely. 

It’s unclear how long it has been since the woman in the nursing home has been able to speak coherently, her body weakened by ailments both visible and unseen. Much of her day is spent seated in a common area with other residents, where she impassively watches whatever film classic happens to be showing on the big screen TV. Yet the arrival of Tavish brings about a startling transformation. Her eyes focus. Her placid, smooth features become animated. And with arms outstretched, she begins to weep. While disarming to those around her, Tavish takes it in stride and approaches her chair. In a rising crescendo she moans, “Ohhhhhhhh,” and buries her hands into Tavish’s fur, grinning broadly, fat tears streaming down her cheeks.

Gulp.

The boy is polite and has a winsome smile. His name is Milo*. Of all the visiting dogs gathered in the courtyard at this center for troubled youth, Tavish is the one who has instantly commanded Milo’s attention. Over the course of several visits, Milo gets to know Tavish pretty well, works on commands with him, and even introduces Tavish to some of the younger kids and patiently instructs them on how best to walk him. One afternoon Milo brings his therapist out to the courtyard and proudly points to Tavish, “See, Mrs. C.?  That’s who I’ve been telling you about. That’s my dog.”

Wow.

Fourth-grader Aziz* is from Eritrea—a “whole day away”—and he says right up front that dogs in his homeland just aren’t like Tavish. He explains that dogs where he’s from are often feral or otherwise kept as guard dogs. The book Aziz has selected to read to Tavish at the library is a classic boy-and-his-dog story from the “Henry and Mudge” series, and Aziz asks if, as he reads, he can replace Mudge’s name with Tavish’s. It sounds like a good plan. He settles into the story, and Tavish rests a paw on the book. As Aziz finishes reading, he becomes pensive. “It must be nice to come home to a dog like Tavish,” he muses.

Agreed.

From time to time, this blog will continue to reflect upon remarkable moments in therapy dog work with Tavish.

*Names of the children have been changed to protect privacy.