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Tyler County Board of Education considers the use of ‘Therapy Dogs’

By Staff | Mar 4, 2009

The Tyler County Board of Education went to the dogs at their March 2 meeting.

Charles Brown with Therapy Dogs International brought his dog Bear for board members to meet. Brown would like to bring Bear into the elementary schools as an educational tool.

Therapy Dogs International sponsors Tail Waggin’ Tutors: Children Reading to Dogs Program. The program provides a relaxed and dog-friendly atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading. Many of the children chosen for this program have difficulties reading and as a result have developed self-esteem issues. They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates.

Therapy Dogs International is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registering therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals, other institutions and wherever else therapy dogs are needed.

Brown uses Bear at Sistersville General Hospital and Carehaven in Belmont. Bear has made 150 visits since 2006. Bear is three-years-old, has never bitten, and has $200,000 of insurance.

With the board’s permission, Brown would bring in Bear once a week in an effort to encourage children to read.

“The kids get to read a book about a dog to a dog,” explained Brown. “It’s been proven to improve their reading scores, and when they get around a dog we know is okay, they get rid of the fear of the dog.”

School Superintendent Jeff Hoover expressed support for the use of Bear in the schools.

“I think the idea of using him (Bear) with our neediest children, our special education children, would make sense”, said Hoover.

Melinda Walton, Director of Special Education and Attendance, supports the use of the dog on a flexible schedule. Walton told Brown she would check with the principals at each school.

“I don’t know if once a week is what they’d want,” said Walton. “I think that we need to speak with each of the four principals and see how they feel they could use him.”

“Maybe he could relieve the stress once a week in here,” joked Hoover.

Representatives with the Tyler County Public Library were also on hand to ask for support from the board.

Library Director Carol Ann Kucharski and Head Librarian Roseanne Eastham explained that the West Virginia Library Commission was eliminating $14,000 that the library has previously received.

Instead of giving the library a lump sum, the Library Commission will provide matching funds to any increase in local taxable funding. Currently the Town of Middlebourne and the Board of Education contribute $1,000 each annually to the library, while the Tyler County Commission does not contribute.

In 2006 the library received over $400 in donations from banks, patrons, and memorials. With a combined total of $2,000 from Middlebourne and the Board of Education, losing the state’s $14,000 takes a large chunk of the library’s operating budget away. The library also receives $14,000 from the Stealey Green Foundation.

“We’re just requesting any amount of funding you can increase for us,” Kucharski said.

“Once we lose that state money, we’re never going to get it back,” explained Eastham.

The board asked Jeff Davis, the board’s financial manager and treasurer, to take the information given by the library and address the request at the board’s budget hearings in April.

The next board meeting will be March 16 at 7:30 p.m.