Tales are wagging at Westwood in Wellington

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Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise
Third-graders Avery Senghas, Ana Cochran, and Lilah O’Brien prepare to read a book with principal Erica Ward and her Great Dane, Jameson. The trained therapy dog visits Westwood Elementary School every Friday.

JONATHAN DELOZIER
REPORTER

A furry friend is helping kids at Westwood Elementary School wind down with a good book to end each week.

Principal Erica Ward’s eight-month-old Great Dane, Jameson, has undergone 13 weeks of therapy dog training and every Friday is brought in to be read to by students in 15-minute increments.

Jameson’s gentle demeanor was easy to sense as he sat down with a trio of students who were eager to say hello and share a new adventure.

His paws were nearly as big as the book held by third-grader Avery Senghas.

“It feels really fun to come down here,” she said. “I really like it because he’s very nice. I like to read and I love dogs, so, why not do both?”

Kids visiting Jameson take turns reading from the same book, eventually making it the entire way through before their time is up.

Friday’s selection may have been chosen so as not to offend their canine pal, turning a popular fairy tale on its head with “The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig.”

“Jameson likes to see everyone and a lot of kids get to see him on Fridays when they’re in the office,” Ward said. “I made sure he had finished his puppy level one and level two training before I started bringing him in.”

“I’d say roughly four to five kids come down to see him at a time,” Ward said. “Typically, when he’s read to he just likes to lay in his bed. We do it in my office because it’s a little more controlled. We do have some kids that have a hard time talking to adults, especially if something is going on. But they will open up to a dog. He’s definitely a positive behavioral support.”

Westwood is the only district building visited by Jameson but Ward said she would be open to the idea of adding stops at Wellington High School and McCormick Middle School.

According to a 2017 study by the Education Resources Information Center, K-12 students exposed to therapy dogs in school often experienced increases in their language, reading, and social skills.

The study found that therapy dogs can instill more confidence in new readers as opposed to reading to an adult or peers.

Dogs also provide comfort to children living in poverty or in abusive homes, according to the study.

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