“A patient’s contact with an animal is often more effective than the medicine itself,” said Wolfgang Oiotrowski, director of the Neurological Clinic in Mannheim, Germany. This premise is the central axis of Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA), an American entity that since 1999 improves the quality of life of people with physical, mental or emotional needs through interaction with animals. Among the activities that are underway, a pioneering project stands out that, to this day, has already been echoed by half the world.
One day, in the public library of Salt Lake City, Utah (USA), a boy was stunned when he saw a dog surrounded by shelves full of stories. The objective was for the little boy to read a book aloud in the presence of an animal from the ITA team. In this way, the specialists realized that the child read more relaxed when perceiving the presence of the dog that did perform the same task in front of his friends. In addition, they also observed that minors could acquire the habit of going to libraries thanks to these activities.
Thus, the North American entity decided to create Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) for Reading with Dogs, an initiative that is already being applied in European countries, including Spain. «In 2012, the program began in the Community of Madrid at the Caja Madrid library in Collado Villalba. The good reception of the minors was such that from that day on we had individualized workshops lasting fifteen minutes in almost the entire region and next year, both the human team and the canine team of READ will grow,” he tells this newspaper Elena Domínguez, director of READ . According to the person in charge, in these environments it is possible to create an emotional bond between the two farmers and the children with which they manage to stimulate the child’s motivation, concentration and imagination, in a natural and relaxed way. Emphasize that any dog with a calm temperament and who is able to remain calm in an environment where there are noise and people, is valid to create the environment they seek. “In North America they used a Doberman or Rottweiler so the breed we use is the least important” and adds that “the guides, like the animals, have to pass several ITA exams before executing these sessions.”
However, that atmosphere that they manage to build does not vanish once the sessions end, but the experts manage to arouse the interest of the minors in the animal world once they cross the threshold of the library door. In addition, “we have managed to get children with a phobia of dogs to put aside their fears by attending these workshops,” says Domínguez.
And if the minors benefit from attending, the dogs also benefit from the symbiotic relationship that is achieved. “At no time do we use dogs as work tools but rather as companions – emphasizes the person in charge of the program – for this reason, if we notice that one of the animals is nervous, we conclude the class”.
The words of Oiotrowski, that doctor who predicted the use of dogs in the field of Medicine, will be in the minds of Domínguez’s team next week. During the nine months that the school year lasts and “for the first time, we are going to start therapeutic sessions in two schools with children who really have learning difficulties.” Thirty minutes in which the minors will be the protagonists of some workshops outlined for them will be enough to improve reading comprehension by feeling the dog’s attention. In addition, “they experience an important role change because the moment they do not understand a subject, they will try to explain it out loud to the dog, as if they were teachers instructing their students and will improve the emotional transmission of the text, and in turn , oral expression”, explains Domínguez.