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Reading can be ruff stuff

Students in Connie Moore’s third grade class at Jonesborough Elementary School love to read, especially if those listening have a nose for the written word.
Shrieks of excitement ripped through Moore’s classroom last week as four dogs quietly pranced in, greeting the students with glee.
Within minutes, each dog retreated to its corner of the room, surrounded by anywhere from one to three students — and a whole lot of books.
“We started this program in February. The dogs come every second and fourth Wednesday to read with the kids,” Moore said. “It’s such a wonderful program. Kids that would be intimidated by reading to me, or even to other kids, love reading to these dogs.”
Evan Raynor is one of those kids. On this particular day, he sat with two classmates as they took turns reading to Bonnie, a sheltie.
“Sometimes the teachers fuss at people because they are doing stuff they aren’t supposed to,” Raynor said. “The dogs don’t really care. They just keep listening.”
In fact, the dogs listen so intently that Tapaienga Blevins, another student in Moore’s class, purposely selects books she thinks the dogs will enjoy.
“Today, I read ‘Clifford the Fire House Dog.’ It’s fun. You get an opportunity to get to know the dogs better,” Blevins said. “And they can just lay there calmly. Teachers stand and listen while you read. Dogs are just gentle and don’t have to tell you a lot of stuff like teachers do.”
Each dog has been trained as a therapy dog, learning specific behavior related to interacting with elementary school children.
While not every dog is suited for such work, it seems Tucker, a parti-colored cocker spaniel, is right where he belongs.
“When he was 7 months old, we stopped at a rest stop and there was a 10-month-old child running around,” Kim Williams said of her dog. “He just started crying. He wanted to get over to that kid. That’s when I knew he’d be great at something like this.”
Even though the other dogs get just as much love and affection from the students, it seems Tucker has become somewhat of a mascot for the class program.
Individual calendars on each student’s desk simply denote “Tucker” on Wednesdays the dogs are scheduled to visit.
While they’re not sure which dogs will accompany him, it’s a sure bet Tucker will be there, wagging his short tail and rolling around on a reading carpet at the front of the room.
“They just can’t wait for Tucker to come,” Moore said. “They just love it.”