By Jackie Thomas, Fort Bragg Garrison PAOOctober 11, 2019
Sadie listened attentively as one of kindergarten teacher Suzanne Merritt's students from her Merritt's Parrots class at Fort Bragg's Gordon Elementary School read to her in the school's information center. Every now and then, Sadie would lift her head and cock it to the side as the 5-year-old pointed to words and pictures in a storybook.
As the student read, her other two classmates looked on and, while giggling, said, "we love Sadie, she's so pretty."
No, Sadie isn't one of the students at Gordon Elementary, but the four-legged black Labrador Retriever mixed is a friend -- a reading buddy. Sadie and her owner, Mardy Shirey, visits the school regularly as part of Love on a Leash, a nonprofit organization.
According to its information pamphlet, Love on a Leash began and is headquartered in San Diego County (California) in 1984. Its vision is to be recognized as a well-respected and welcoming pet-provided therapy organization. It has approximately 2,000 members nationwide. Currently, there are more than 70 chapters across the United States.
Shirey and Sadie have been part of the Fayetteville chapter of the organization for more than a year.
Shirey shared that Sadie came to her Family as a stray. For two months, they tried to find her Family but to no avail. However, Sadie, said Shirey "ended up being the Family member we didn't know was missing from our lives."
She said her and Sadie did dog-therapy training and found out about Love on a Leash online.
"My big thing was getting into the libraries and schools for the kids to read to," Shirey said. "By joining the group, Pamela Bailey (information specialist and librarian at Gordon Elementary School) reached out to the local chapter president, and that's how we got started."
Bailey, who said the school's official name for its reading program is Gordon's Story Tails, got Love on a Leash to partner with them after visiting other libraries and seeing children and dogs connecting through reading.
"I saw the kids reading to the dogs, and they seemed very comfortable," she said. "I also saw another DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) school in a different district doing it, so I thought to myself 'surely I can do it, too.' I called Love on a Leash, got connected with Mardy and here we are going on two years. We've got more dogs coming to join us, but Mardy and Sadie are troopers. The kids just love coming to the information center to read with or to her. She loves on them, too, with a lick. It's just great because they're learning and enjoying to read."
Merritt said this is a fantastic program for the younger kids.
"They get to come in and have no pressure; they can read their story and the dog just gives them that confidence," she said. "There have been a variety of animals that have stopped by such as cats and lizards, but Sadie, she is our faithful one. I've seen children with no confidence or shy read to Sadie, therefore, you get to observe things they may not be performing in the classroom. It's interesting from an educator's point of view to see a different personality when interacting with Sadie."
(Editor's Note: The organization represented in this article does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense for the information, products or services contain therein.)