Therapy dogs give kids courage to speak with Paws to Read

Reprinted from Kearney Hub

By RICK BROWN Hub Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, February 2, 2015 11:33 am

KEARNEY — Gretel knows exactly what to do when a child reads: Listen.

“It was fun reading to the dog,” Abby Racer said. “Sometimes, she wanted to move away but I think she was listening to me most of the time.”

Abby, 8, finished her storybook and petted Gretel during Paws to Read, a monthly event at Kearney Public Library that connects young readers with registered therapy animals. Abby attended Paws to Read with her father, Brent Racer of Kearney.

“We heard about this today and came to try it out,” Brent said. “It’s a neat program. I think the kids enjoyed it.”

Abby, a third-grader at Kenwood Elementary School, said she enjoys reading chapter books, especially The Rainbow Fairies book series.

Claudia Murr, Gretel’s owner, said she has owned six therapy dogs over the years. Five of them still live with her. Gretel and her brother, Hansel, were dumped on a country road.

“After I brought them home, I was out walking them and I wondered what I was going to do with two dogs,” Murr said. “What am I going to name them? Well, they are the fairies’ dogs, so it just hit me, Hansel and Gretel from the fairy tale because that’s their story, too.”

Murr said she has been grooming her dogs to work as therapy animals for 15 years.

“A number of years ago I worked with four children at Bryant School,” she said. “In the two years I worked with them, those boys improved their reading to the point where they could go ahead to the next grade.”

One child who had a speech impediment felt shy about reading in front of others.

“By the end of his school year, his teacher told me that he was holding this hand up in class and answering questions,” Murr said. “He made an excellent change and really grew.”

Murr retired from her job in manufacturing several years ago. Although she has no background in teaching, Murr understands how reading to an animal can make a change.

“I teach when I have my animals with me,” she said.

The Paws to Read event allows Murr to teach through example and experience by showing children something as simple as the feet of her dogs.

“I’ve had little kids who didn’t know that dogs had toenails,” she said. “So I show them their toenails and let them touch the pads of the dogs’ feet. Oh, they’re rough. Yes, just like the bottom of your shoe so you can run fast. So, there are teaching moments all the time.”

The Paws to Read program gives Murr a nice excuse to have five dogs running around the house because they’ve all been working, she said with a laugh.

Allowing children to read to a dog might sound silly, but Murr believes the unconditional love of a trained therapy dog gives a certain amount of warmth and confidence to struggling students. She also took her dogs to see patients at hospitals, cancer centers and visiting rooms as well as schools. The connection between dogs and humans exists in a way that defies words, Murr believes.

“Children can touch the dogs and feel the warmth,” Murr said. “My dogs are used to it. When it comes time to go, Gretel wants to head to another child.”

email to:

2009 Freedom Award

SHS Animal Assisted Programs has been nominated several times for the 2009 Freedom Award given out by the Kearney Hub. The nominiations were for the visits to the Kearney Public Library and nursing homes in the area. Visit the recent Kearney Hub article highlighting Paws to Read.

We would like to express our deep gratitude for Alaina and Amy for getting the program connected with the Library. Additionally for all the volunteers that make and keep connections with our nursing homes. This program would not be what it is without the dedication, initiative and drive of the volunteer workforce and special thanks and congratulations to those directly involved in the conception and ongoing work with these programs!


Animals in Action

Animal Assisted Therapy Program

Chunk - GirlsMedical professionals are becoming increasingly aware of the therapeutic and soothing effects animals have on patients. A growing number of clinical studies are proving that animals contribute to physical health by lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety levels and increasing survival rates for people with heart disease.

Good Samaritan Hospital (GSH) of Kearney, Nebraska has transformed healthcare delivery and positively affected family members, staff and the community through a program that complements traditional models. While other animal assisted therapy programs (AAP) have long been admired for the impact they have in the health care setting, what sets GSH AAP apart from others is the hospital’s commitment to support the program to provide services not only to the hospital but also to the our entire community.

Notes of Appreciation

Jude and therapy dog Schotzy

Jude and therapy dog Schotzy

Jude and Schatzi were recognized for their work at the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon by this note of appreciation received from a family member of a patient at Good Samaritan Hospital:

Animal Assisted Therapy – Jude and therapy dog Schotzy made a world of difference to my 3-year old son receiving chemotherapy for Leukemia. They often met us at the door and walked him to his room at the Cancer Center. He came to look forward to his visits here and seeing Schotzy. Schotzy really helped bring comfort and solitude to my son and brought a smile to his face. Thank you, thank you!

Neco & Brighton

Neco & Brighton

Neco & Brighton

In the fall of 2001 Larry, our then puppy Neco and I attended the Samoyed Nationals in Denver. That was when we first heard about pet therapy. We were so captivated by the numerous stories and upon returning to Kearney immediately started training to become certified. We have been involved in the pet therapy program for 10 years with Neco.

In the fall of 2002 Brighton joined our family. He and Neco have the same mother. Brighton started pet therapy at a very young age. We were going many places that wanted the little puppy to join us. As soon as possible Brighton was fully certified. Brighton has been in the program for 9 years.

In 2009 the four of us were selected to receive The Spirit of Planetree Therapy Animal Award. This is a nationwide organization that is participated in by Good Samaritan Hospital.

We have made visits to Bryant School, Meadowlark School, Northeast School, Zion School, Sunrise Middle School, Kearney Senior High School, YMCA preschool, private school in Lincoln, PEO organization, Relay for Life, various Senior Citizens Housing, Omaha Care Center, Public Library reading program for children, Camp Bear, Richard Young Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital.

~ Larry and Helen Miller