“Research shows that magical things happen when a child interacts with a certified therapy dog. Anxiety levels decrease, heartbeat slows, breathing becomes deeper and more relaxed, and fears are forgotten. When a child feels calm and secure, not only is learning possible, but physical and emotional healing are achieved,” says Sharon Fleck, president of Roxy Therapy Dogs, who is responsible for the program in which volunteers take therapy dogs into 130 classes serving 3200 kids each week in the 14 elementary schools of Central Bucks School District, as well as other community sites such as the pediatric unit of Doylestown Hospital and Bucks County Courthouse.
Roxy Therapy Dogs visit students in classes serving mainstream, autistic, Life Skills, and those with multiple disabilities, but by far, the largest program in Central Bucks is the reading program. This is designed for students who are struggling with fluency and experiencing a lot of stress. “If a child pets or sits next to a dog — who doesn’t judge and doesn’t care if they need more time to pronounce a word — it means everything to that child who might be a reluctant reader,” says Sharon. It helps them to “feel more confident, more competent, and become good readers,” she adds.
This enthusiastic volunteer in the non-profit organization says that there are 75 teams with some handlers having more than one dog, and that any breed can be a therapy dog as long as it’s “calm and not easily startled by loud children, touching, or crutches.” All types of dogs participate and several have disabilities themselves, such as a missing eye or deafness, and it’s important for kids to see that “the dogs are different, not less capable.”
“The service or therapy dogs know when they’re helping people; they take it seriously,” notes Sharon. While “some dogs do agility or diving, they behave differently once they put the vest on. They take on a different mindset when it’s time to hang out with kids and work.”
You can learn more about this phenomenal program, as well as the human and canine volunteers who give their time and love and check out their video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJ_KIIpDqtA&t=69s