Dogs lend a helping paw at Sioux Trail Elementary

11:59 AM, Jan 3, 2013   |    comments
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BURNSVILLE, Minn. -- "Aidan, are you ready to read?"  A teacher patiently waits for her student to settle in to the task at hand.  The lesson, even in a classroom of children with special needs, can become routine.

Luckily, teachers at Sioux Trail Elementary in Burnsville have some extra help each week when therapy dogs visit the school.

"Mondays are a fantastic day here at Sioux Trail," exclaimed Special Education teacher Katie Nelson.  "Working with these dogs just changes the feel of the classroom, changes the way students work there."

As a specialist coaxes Aidan to read a phrase,  volunteer Beth Akin prompts an energetic black lab, Rio, to hit a button with his nose.  It triggers a recording that repeats the correct phrase.

"They're trained to help people with physical mobility challenges, and they're also trained to do diabetic alert," said Akin of the dogs.

That's just part of the story.  The dogs are part of PawPADS, PAWsitive Perspectives Assistance Dogs.  The dogs receive two years of training, learn around 100 different commands that enable them to turn on light switches, open doors, alert owners to ringing doorbells and phones, retrieve items, and many other things people who have physical challenges may face.

Many of the dogs come from shelters. Others are donated by breeders.  They can play a critical role in a person's ability to be independent.

At Sioux Trail, the dogs may take an active role encouraging special ed students, like Rio, or they might just supply a willing ear for students polishing their reading skills.

"They don't judge you," said Akin.  "They just sit there and listen, they're just calming and the kids enjoy petting them."

Teachers say many kids see the visits by the dogs as a reward.  In Katie Nelson's class, the visits by the dogs can actually move the kids ahead. 

"When something happens that we didn't expect a student to do, that's when the tears sometimes come," said Nelson. 

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved.)

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