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Reading? It's for the dogs!

Reading? It's for the dogs!
Athena and her handler, La Vernia High School teacher Michelle Dech, provide listening ears as Garrett and Justin Lamb practice their reading skills in the quiet of the La Vernia Primary School library.

Athena is a 2-year-old lab owned by Michelle Dech, a teacher at La Vernia High School, and is a pet therapy dog. Dech has been doing therapy service for one year with Athena and her sister, Pandora, a lab mix. And on some summer evenings, you can find Athena and Pandora in the La Vernia Primary School library, quietly listening as children read stories to them.

The idea is that the children feel comfortable reading to Athena and Pandora, because both dogs give them unconditional approval of their reading abilities. They provide a safe environment to read and not be afraid of making mistakes. The dogs don’t critique the children’s reading efforts and give them their attention with a lick; in turn, the children can hug the dogs to get reassurance of a job well done. Both dogs are very patient; a dog that is easily startled or barks or is hyper would not make a good pet therapy dog.

Athena and Pandora visited the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home in Floresville June 25 to meet veterans who live there. They also have visited hospital patients; the Fisher House, which serves the San Antonio Military Medical Center, to work with military people with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder); retirement homes, and the Wilson County Courthouse.

All of this work is strictly on a volunteer basis. Dech gets no pay for the dogs’ food or vet bills and does this out of the love for the dogs and the people she helps. She loves her job!

If you’d like to meet Athena or Pandora, one of the dogs will be at the La Vernia Primary School library on Thursday evenings from 5:30-7:30 p.m. through July 26.

Both dogs are listed in the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen (AKC CGC) archive and are Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ), registered with Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA). They are insured and certified with WAGS Across Texas, a local group that trains and provides service and therapy dogs in Texas; and Therapy Dog Incorporated (TDInc), a national group providing therapy dogs since 1990. That means they are certified to work in all 50 states, Canada, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Territories. Both are working to complete 50 hours of community service in order to receive their AKC Pet Therapy title.

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