Heeling Friends in Steamboat seeks dog-owner teams | CraigDailyPress.com

Heeling Friends in Steamboat seeks dog-owner teams

Matt Stensland

Heeling Friends volunteer Karen Covillo, left, talks with Sports Med patient Allison Holt, who is holding Panda, a Chihuahua, in February 2009.

— Seven local dogs have been on a mission to help children learn to read, but more are needed.

Routt County's Heeling Friends pet therapy program will offer training Tuesday through Thursday to people and their dogs interested in volunteering for the program. The training will cover all aspects of Heeling Friends but will focus on the group's Reading Education Assistance Dogs program for which there is an increased demand.

Strawberry Park Elementary School, Soda Creek Elementary School and Christian Heritage School participate in READ, along with Bud Werner Memorial Library's summer reading program. READ program coordinator Barb Clark said children read a book to a dog, which helps lower anxiety and boost confidence as they learn to read. The dog's owner stays nearby, but the interaction is mostly between the child and the dog.

"They don't judge your reading, laugh or criticize or anything like that," Clark said.

The Heeling Friends program started in Routt County in 1998 and today has 28 teams of dogs and owners. In addition to the READ program, Heeling Friends dogs can be found helping to relieve anxiety at Yampa Valley Medical Center and the Doak Walker Care Center.

In additon to the READ program, Clark and her Bernese mountain dog, Vernors, specialize in visiting children after they have had their tonsils removed.

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"Vernors comes to the day surgery and does his tricks for the children, which is very special," Clark said.

Clark said the ideal candidates for the Heeling Friends program will have a dog that has a good temperament, enjoys meeting with people and has basic obedience training.

The Heeling Friends training is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at Strawberry Park Elementary School. People should plan to attend all three nights. The cost is $25, and people can call 970-871-0021 for more information or visit http://www.heelingfriends.org.

"I really would like people to come to the training to find out what it's all about," Clark said. "It's very rewarding to help someone's day."

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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