TALLAHASSEE,Fla.(WTXL)-- Rikki is a Hurricane Katrina rescue dog, that isn't just your typical playful animal; she also helps children with reading.
“Reading with Rikki makes me feel great,” say two children from the Character Center ran by Zachery Richardson. They are both apart of the R.E.A.D Program offered through the Animal Therapy Division at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare.
“I like to brag about the fact that none of my kids have ever stayed back who were R.E.A.D participants and it benefits our kids because it teaches them phonetical awareness. As well as allowing the kids to talk comfortable with the R.E.A.D Instructor and so, they teach them practical skills and how to go back and practice daily,” says Richardson.
The R.E.A.D program is a national program that stands for, Reading Education Assistance Dogs. According to Stephanie Perkins, TMH Animal Therapy Program Coordinator, Rikki’s primary role is to ensure that children are in a relaxed setting conducive for learning; in hopes of minimizing any distractions he or she may have.
“We serve children who are may be in the gray area of reading. Maybe they’re not the greatest readers but this gives them a chance to practice. We’re not reading coaches, they get to practice to an animal who unconditionally loves them, listen without judging, it’s really a calm environment for them to practice,” Perkins said.
Rikki is a female Golden Retriever rescued from the flood-waters outside of New Orleans. Instructor and handler, Patty Mitchell says that she always knew Rikki would be the perfect dog for animal therapy.
“I think because of her calm nature and as you might have seen she’s a lay down dog. She’s very calm and comfortable that translates as a very soothing reading partner for the readers,” Mitchell said.
Since March of 2008, Rikki and Patty have been teaching children at the Character Center the fundamentals of effective reading in the presence of a dog. Not only do the children care about learning but they even care about Rikki.
“They learned how to respect the pet and then they started to learn how to respect themselves and so it was multi-facets, so I was very excited about the R.E.A.D team,” Richardson said.