altWhen I saw this poster at our library I did a double take, and had to record it.  We have a friend who trains assistance dogs, and I'd always thought of them as animals that did for people what the people could not do:  being eyes for the blind, ears for the deaf, or hands for those with limited use of their own.  So how, I wondered, does a dog help those who can't read?  Our friend would tell you that her dogs are very clever, but not even she will claim that they can read.

Well, it turns out that it's not reading assistance these dogs are giving, but reading education assistance.  So I'm guessing that it's our educational system that's handicapped here.  There's a video below that explains the program, in which children who are academically or socially impaired get the opportunity to read out loud to specially-trained dogs.  As our librarian explained, "The dogs never judge; they just listen."  I'll make no judgements about the program itself, which apparently has been quite successful.  If it helps kids and doesn't cost a boatload of tax money, go for it.  I will, however, vent a little about a society and a system that apparently make such interventions necessary.

How have we managed to make such a hash of learning to read?  Children are born smart.  Every normal child learns to speak a language (or two, or three, or seventeen) before he ever sets foot in a school.  Indeed, he learns the very concept of language.  If his parents are Deaf, he learns to sign as well.  He learns all this with no formal lessons, no studying, no special programs, no certified teachers, no expensive curricula.  Humans are as well-designed for reading as for speaking; how is it that we have made reading so difficult to learn?

Do these children have no parents to read to?  No siblings?  Are they too busy and impatient?  Do they have no pets of their own?  Not even a stuffed animal?  I'm guessing the sad answer in too many cases is yes.

The "reassurances" near the end of the video sent chills down my spine.  These aren't just ordinary pets; all dogs and handlers are "professionally screened, trained, and tested."  "Teams wear identifying shirts, bandanas, and badges."  The animals are specially treated against allergens before interacting with children.  And of course, they are all insured.  What kind of a world have we created?

I wonder how much of the benefit the children receive comes from the physical affection given and received with the dog.  That's a good thing, but it's tragic that the children are no longer allowed to exchange that affection with their teachers and human volunteers.  And each other, for that matter.

Hmm.  Maybe we should expand the program.  Who wouldn't benefit from a chance to interact with an affectionate, well-trained dog?  I'm thinking workplace stress-relief programs.  Microsoft and Google, are you listening?

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 2:48 pm | Edit
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Google allows dogs but frowns upon cats.

Microsoft's general policy is no pets.



Posted by David July on Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 7:41 pm

I'll admit I frown upon cats in the workplace—and especially on airplanes. I'm not fond of dogs on planes, either. My allergies aren't life-threatening, like peanut allergies, but they can make a flight pretty miserable, and the lack of space already does a good job of that. I mentioned Microsoft and Google because they seemed like the kind of company that would like the idea. But I was not thinking of allowing pets at the office, rather having trained therapy dogs visit now and then.

Reading a bit more of Google's policy, I see a couple of other interesting things. (1) "Under no circumstances should anyone bring a weapon to work. If you become aware of a violation of this policy, you should report it to Human Resources immediately." That would make me nervous. Some wacko could go postal and the employees are supposed to throw pencils at him? Would my Swiss Army key chain get me fired? (It's less dangerous than a pencil, but gives the TSA fits.)

(2) "Employment here is based solely upon individual merit and qualifications directly related to professional competence. We strictly prohibit ... discrimination ... on the basis of ... mental or physical disability." Anyone besides me see a contradiction here?

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 8:15 pm

I like cats considerably more than dogs, but would not want either around at my workplace. I did fly with a dog once, but it was a well-trained search/rescue animal travelling with a uniformed human. The dog, also wearing a little uniform, was basically invisible for the entire flight. The other passengers and I were very amused.

Posted by David July on Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 1:06 pm
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