'Love on a Leash' volunteers allow students to 'just read'
Therapy dogs of all breeds, colors and sizes have been participating in "Reading Dog Thursday" at Mentors & Meals during this school year. A 160-pound Newfoundland named Bourbon and his owner, Kathy Korona, spent about an hour with students in the after-school program last Thursday, April 28. Among them were seventh-graders Logan Carter and Juan Coronel, who took turns reading to 6-year-old Bourbon and then petting him. "He loves children, and this breed's known for its sweet temperament," said Korona. Mentors & Meals has been relying on high school mentors and adult volunteers to make a difference in the lives of Woodford County Middle School students since it started as a pilot program in 2011. But now on Thursdays, four-legged volunteers from Central Kentucky Love on a Leash come to First Christian Church's Life Center and they are making a difference too. "Everybody wins," said Lisa Johnson, program director for Mentors & Meals. "The kids win because they're getting to improve their language skills and comprehension." Reading to a dog may also encourage a student to pick up a book and just read for pure enjoyment. And that may be the biggest benefit of all. "These kids need to learn to read for enjoyment," said Johnson. "So many times it's because they have to (read in school). I'm trying to encourage them to read because they want to or because it benefits somebody else - whether it's a dog or a person." She described reading as the "building block of everything . so I want the kids to have some moment where they realize that reading can be fun, and it's not just a chore or it's not just for school." Therapy dogs with Central Kentucky Love on a Leash - and their owners - volunteer in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and elsewhere. The Woodford County Library has been partnering with Love on a Leash to offer its PAWS reading program for several years. Korona has no doubt that being a Love on a Leash therapy dog has enriched Bourbon's life. His breed loves people. "So if he hears kids," she explained, "he always wants to go toward the kids." And on Thursdays, Bourbon draws a crowd. "This age group likes animals," said Johnson.