Pet Tips 'n' Tales

Gunther - School Dog
Part I

Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Gunther, "The Read Dog" for Harrison Elementary School, celebrates his 5th birthday with "his" students from Ms. Skadburg's class.   Gunther is called "Mr. G" out of respect for his position at the school. He offers proof that service dogs can be a miracle at the end of a leash.

TALES

Gunther, a 5-year-old Golden Retriever, naturally gravitates to children.  "When he sees children playing in the school grounds, he almost turns himself inside out," laughs Mrs. Joan Ferguson, "trying to join them.  It is a good thing we don't join them because with his busy tail there wouldn't be a child left standing!"
 
Mrs F. and her husband, Terry, solved the problem of Gunther's drive to be near children and are changing lives by doing it!
 
"We saw a "Read Dog" on the TV news," explains Mrs. F.  "The dog enters a school or library classroom and sits (or sprawls) beside a child, who reads to the dog.  Reading to a dog encourages those beginning readers or students who don't enjoy reading.   Dogs are nonjudgmental, not intimidating, and love unconditionally.

Instinctively, I knew that this was a job for Gunther as he would love to go into a room full of kids, give a few licks and sniffs, lay down, and hear a story.  No tricks required - just be near kids!
 
Gunther and I enrolled in the Delta Society. (www.DeltaSociety.org) Classes teach dogs how to stay calm and deal with situations such as people crowding against them; approaching or being approached by other animals (even cats!); sudden, loud noises, and being touched by passersby.

I'll certainly never forget when our class met at the mall.  We were instructed to walk down the inside mall.  Seemed simple enough but when Gunther saw his first mannequin in a window, he became air bound, jumping with all fours, sideways!  A few stores later he thought he had hit "payola!" A shoe store sat innocently with a display of tennis shoes OUTSIDE the store, just waiting for him.

Gunther weighs 97 lbs. but when he spots something so extraordinary, so tantalizing, he morphs into 300 lbs. He jet-propelled us towards those shoes!  I was pulling him back, while skidding after him.  There was no question in Gunther's mind, "We are headed for the shoes!"  I finally got control of him, just as we approached a 'yummy-looking' pair of Nikes. 

Weeks later, Gunther passed the 'final' and became a certified service dog with a vest to wear to boot! 
 
Ms. Skadburg, a Harrison Elementary first grade teacher, heard of Gunther's accomplishment and asked, "Would Gunther volunteer and  listen to my students read?" Both the students and Gunther were elated!  "Mrs. F. is a former Harrison educational assistant," said Ms. Skadburg, "and the students receive reading encouragement from her during Gunther's visit."
 
Mr. G feels it isn't necessary to wear his Service Dog vest to do a good job.  "One day, on the way to school, he stopped in the crosswalk, and had a tantrum," explains Mrs. Ferguson, (Mrs. F.) Gunther's owner, "He laid down and refused to move.  I took his vest off, he jumped up, trotted off, and gave me that look, 'It's about time you figured that out!'

As they enter the school, Gunther grabs his leash, in his mouth, and excitedly pulls Mrs. F. behind him towards "his" classroom. He passes a group of students changing rooms, and stops to greet each student as if he/she is the only important person in his world.
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Everyone loves Dr. Seuss' books; Gunther is no exception, so Hope read him the entire book!
 
During reading, some youngsters snuggle up to Gunther. Because of his big brown eyes, the children know that Gunther is intently listening to them read.  He validates their efforts, even though he occasionally yawns.
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Sebastian and Gunther share a joke.
 
One year, a child who was reluctant to come to school never missed "Gunther Day."  The child anxiously sat in his desk waiting for "Mr. G."

At the end of the school year, another child was upset because, "There are only two Gunther Days left!"  As far as the children are concerned, every classroom should have a resident dog!

During holidays, Gunther receives more Valentines and Christmas cards than anyone else in town!  His cards are written in perfect penmanship too!

Gunther loves when children read him their cards.  Both the canine's face and that of the children light up as the children tell him about the pictures they've drawn.  Gunther loves his students and responds with a "Thank you!" card. He can't sign the cards so, instead, he sends his photo.  The childrens' favorite photo is of Gunther at the beach with his nose covered in sand.

At Christmas, Gunther gifts each of his readers a bookmark with his picture on it, reminding them to READ during vacation.  Gunther is so dedicated to his readers that he is not bothered, even one little bit, when they read him a story about a cat! 
 
And then there's Popcorn day reminiscent of the shoe episode at the mall.  At the end of the hall, near the front door, sits the delicious popcorn machine. "POPCORN!" thought Gunther.  Because of the smooth floor, Gunther claws his way to the machine, dragging me behind him.   Jeff, the professional popper, now knows that Gunther is coming and saves him a little popcorn.  "Thanks Jeff!! Bark Bark!" says Gunther.


 

TIPS

Love children? Love pets? Have a friendly dog? Bored? Retired? Check out the Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org) and the Dog Read program and help the up and coming next generation of children.  Teach them to read, to love animals, and most importantly to volunteer when they grow up.
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