Tales for Taffy: Therapy dog helps kids with reading difficulties in Yokota

Tales for Taffy: Therapy dog helps kids with reading difficulties in Yokota

by Senior Airman David C. Danford
Yokota Air Base

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- As you struggle to make sense of the words on the page your frustration grows. You know this, you’ve practiced for hours but the words just aren’t coming out right. The more you stutter and stumble your way through a sentence the harder it gets to keep on trying.

Suddenly, a wet nose and velvety muzzle press against your arm and you look down into warm golden eyes that are telling you that everything will be all right. Furry ears perk up as you take a deep calming breath and start to read to your ‘Tail waggin’ tutor.’

At Yokota Air Base, the base library and schools work together with Deanna Melin, owner of Taffy, a therapy dog certified by Therapy Dogs International, to help children with reading difficulties. This program is named ‘Tales for Taffy’, and is held on Wednesdays from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. in 15 minute sessions that can be scheduled at the library’s circulation desk.

When children read to others, it not only helps to improve their reading, vocabulary and comprehension skills, but also their confidence and self-esteem, allowing them to progress quickly. Children with poor reading skills however can become intimidated, too self-conscious and fearful of ridicule to participate. Enter Taffy. As part of the ‘Tail waggin’ tutor’ program, Taffy provides a non-judgmental ear and a calming presence that allows the children to develop their reading skills.

“It’s amazing how intuitive he is,” Melin said. “I saw it a lot with some of the elderly clients that we’ve worked with, but it was awesome to see him with the kids today. He’s different with each child giving them exactly what they need.”

Taffy is a Welsh border collie fully certified to work with children, medical patients and the elderly. While Taffy is now a happy and healthy member of the Melin family, he once lived in a very different environment.

According to Melin, as a puppy, Taffy was raised in a confined room by his first owner, an elderly woman who had not researched his breed and was physically incapable of providing for Taffy’s needs. Not knowing how to play or bark, afraid of loud noises and with hip dysplasia caused by cramped quarters Taffy found himself in a local animal shelter. The perfect time and place to be with Melin looking for a rescue dog to help her help others in the community.

“Once I had decided to do this, I knew that I wanted to bring a rescue dog into our family,” Melin said. “So while we were stationed in England I researched a breed that was going to work, not just as a therapy dog, but for our family as well.”

To become an accredited therapy dog Taffy had to display the ability to not react to loud noises and the ability to not react to physical discomfort, with and without his owner present. In addition Taffy was also required to pass a basic obedience course. Having recently recertified, Taffy has been working as a TDI therapy dog for three years at two military installations helping comfort the young and the old.

According to Amie Stone, library director, the certifying institution is just as important when deciding whether to support programs such as ‘Tales for Taffy.”

“I think that the certification is vital for libraries and such, because it lets us know that the dog has been through behavioral analysis,” Stone said. “If a dog isn’t certified I’m not going to let them come in here and trust them with the kids.”

While he still can’t bark, Taffy has risen above his dark and sordid past thanks to the love and care of his family. With his eyes shining brightly and black, fluffy ears cocked, Taffy can’t wait to hear you read your story.

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