I have many friends in my life, but I’d like to tell you about my very best friend. Her name is Claudia. She can be a bit needy at times, constantly looking to hang out with me and loathing when I have to leave. She is very loyal. Anytime I’m feeling down, she is always there to encourage me and to help me feel better. When she’s not trying to hang out, she has a part-time job. She loves kids and goes to the library to help encourage students to learn how to read. Another thing you need to know about Claudia: she’s a Doberman Pinscher.
Claudia is a very smart and curious “person.” Notice, I use “person.” She’s not an “animal” nor “dog.” To me, she’s a person. She’s MY person. She wants to know what I’m doing, loves it when I spend time with her, sits by the fireplace with me, knows when it’s bedtime, and literally “talks” to me. Her favorite words are “I love you.”
I saw her potential. I saw her potential to be great. She’s so intelligent that she can open all different types of doorknobs inside of the house. She would watch carefully and replicate it with perfection. I knew we needed to do something positive with her innate intelligence and set of skills. As a family, we took her to obedience training. She was so successful and graduated from every class with flying colors. One of the last classes she took was to become a “Therapy Dog.” This allows her to enter nursing homes, libraries, and schools to bring joy and encouragement to others. And... she graduated! She even managed to achieve the distinguished “Good Citizen” award. Claudia loves people, and once we became certified with Therapy Dogs International, Claudia and I could bring happiness to others.
Claudia and I first devoted our time to the library through their “Paws to Read” program. Going to the library was a heartwarming introduction to canine volunteer work. Children of all ages would come and read to Claudia. It was inspiring to see the children’s excitement to read at each visit. I was overjoyed by the influence that we had on these young readers. As our bond as therapy dog and handler strengthened, Claudia and I began to branch out from the library, tutoring third graders and working with the “Learning for Life” program at a local high school.
Visiting schools with Claudia quickly became the highlight of my day. Every time Claudia and I visited elementary school classrooms, students would topple over one another to get a turn to read. Claudia aided me in creating a constructive safe environment for young students to be themselves and authentically read without judgment. With each visit, I witnessed improvement in pronunciation, comprehension, and vocabulary.
“Learning for Life” is a high school program dedicated to serving youths with special needs. By introducing Claudia, students got a chance to interact with an animal in a controlled setting. Additionally, our visits assisted in the development of the students’ social skills and allowed them to achieve a greater sensitivity toward animals. The manner in which the students displayed a genuine tenderness toward Claudia and her gentle reciprocation toward them was awe-inspiring. The visible impact that Claudia and I have had on these young teens has made the “Learning for Life” program a rewarding experience for me as well. The effect that an animal can have on a student’s ability to read and socialize amazes me. Claudia began as an ordinary family pet, but she has become so much more. We have been able to touch the lives of children from all walks of life. Claudia’s days volunteering with me are shortening, but the experiences I’ve been able to share with my best friend will last forever. Claudia will always be my good citizen.