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Therapy dogs help kids with reading in the classroom

Kidsday reporter Kylie Schlosser with Zippy, a therapy

Kidsday reporter Kylie Schlosser with Zippy, a therapy dog. Credit: Linda Vaianella

No dogs allowed? Think again! I was fortunate enough to interview a reading teacher at my school, Mrs. Jennifer Sternkopf, and Mr. Tom Tulipan, a therapy dog handler.

Mrs. Sternkopf has been having therapy dogs go into her reading classes for eight years. She said the dogs help her students because “they don’t care if you know the words or not, they just listen. They make reading less stressful and more fun.”

Mrs. Sternkopf first heard about using therapy dogs while she was volunteering at the Bide-a-Wee Organization. The coordinator there asked if she was interested in having dogs come in.

Mr. Tulipan owns three dogs that he uses for therapy: Zippy, Nepherti and Delilah. All three dogs are Italian greyhounds and are certified through Pet Partners. They cannot be afraid of strollers or loud noises, and need to be able to walk next to walkers. As simple as it seems, the dog’s main training is being able to sit and stay.

Some places the dogs go are nursing homes, high schools and airports (a new program to reduce stress and relax people waiting to fly). Mr. Tulipan likes his job very much and says, “It’s fun! The dogs like it, too.” Mr. Tulipan got interested in doing therapy because he used to visit his mother in the nursing home and would bring in his small dog. Everyone loved petting the dog, so now he is a therapy dog handler.

If you are interested of having therapy dogs come to your school or visit your organization, contact Bide-a-Wee at 631-684-0079. They also need volunteers there. Finally, you can help by encouraging people to adopt dogs.

Linda Vaianella’s fifth-grade class, Boyle Road Elementary School, Port Jefferson Station

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