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Moose helps AE students read

Posted: Friday, Apr 19th, 2013

Alamosa Elementary second grader Skyler Cerny reads to Moose, a therapy dog, on Thursday morning during her 15 minute READ session. Taylor, Moose, Cole, Dr. Laura Bruneau, PALS volunteer Carrie Patterson. Front row: Angelica, Skyler and Sean

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — His name is Moose, and it seems to be a little more than coincidence that he gives his time to Alamosa Elementary (AE).

Moose is a Valley Humane rescue dog that almost didn’t make it. The St. Bernard/Heeler mix was on its way to be euthanized when the technician decided to find an emergency foster home, which is where Dr. Laura Bruneau, an Adams State University (ASU) Assistant Professor in Counseling, found him and took him home. Four years later, the one-time cattle wrangler now helps AE second graders, also known as Mini Moose, learn how to read.

“We read to him and feed him treats afterward,” said AE second grader Angelica after spending 15 minutes with Moose and a good book. “He is a good listener. He likes stories about animals and about people, too.”

Bruneau and Moose are a registered READ (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) team through Intermountain Therapy Animals, a non-profit organization devoted to “enhancing the quality of life through the human-animal bond.” READ “improves children’s reading and communication skills by employing a powerful method: reading to an animal.” The international program has thrived since 1999 with more than 3,000 trained therapy teams working in schools and libraries.

Through her counseling work, Bruneau had been involved with the Alamosa School District and after she and Moose became certified, she reached out, and AE Reading Specialist Susan Robinson and AE counselor Laura Basse pulled her into a world of second grade readers in need of extra encouragement. Since last May, Bruneau and Moose have been listening to stories from Dr. Seuss to Little Critters, while providing students with a safe place to practice their literacy skills.

“We liked having a place for struggling readers,” Bruneau explained. “The whole point of the reading dog is that it is not judgmental. They can make mistakes.”

Some benefits of animal therapy include lowering of blood pressure and heart rate, increased relaxation and a tendency to forget about pain and limitations, according to Intermountain Therapy Animals. A research study found that when children get nervous, especially when talking to others, their blood pressure could rise. When a dog enters the equation, blood pressure lowers whether the child and dog are sitting quietly together or whether the child is reading to the dog.

The AE program has resulted in improved reading scores, and has also provided local Kiwanis Club members a place to volunteer.

“We have all been blessed to be part of this experience,” said Kiwanis Club member Dolores Marquez in an email. “Our experiences range from readers who are just beginning to read to children who have mastered the skill and read with such delight. We all look forward to our Thursday mornings with the children and know it’s making a difference.”

Such feedback has Bruneau exploring other outlets for herself and Moose. During ASU’s finals week, she plans to offer Moose’s therapeutic services.

“If they need a stress break, they will be able to come and interact with the animals,” Bruneau said. “I think it is a really good fit for us.”

She said she also wants to have more of a presence at AE.

“Hopefully we will get more involved in the school,” Bruneau said. “We want kids to be excited about having the opportunity to read to Moose.”

But it seems that is already the case.

“Moose encourages me to read,” said AE second grader Taylor. “It is fun to read to dogs. I get so excited.”

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