Therapy dog Natasha encourages kids to read
When Doris Robinette walked her dog Natasha into the children’s area of the Burleson Public Library last Thursday, Mercy Ferramosch, 4, Caleb Smith, 3, and Emily Childs, 8, were quick – and delighted – to pay the seven-year-old Golden Doodle a lot of attention.
The children were very polite. It was obvious they were head-over-heels in love with Natasha – a registered therapy dog with more than a few young fans.
Robinette and Natasha are the central figures of “Dog Tales at the Library,” a special program sponsored by the library designed to help children practice and maintain their reading skills. Dog Tales has been at the library for more than six years.
“The kids just love her to death,” Robinette said, indicating Natasha. “She is just the calmest, coolest little baby you would ever want to have around.”
Robinette, 76, an education assistant at Texas Health Huguley Hospital Fort Worth South, said Natasha is great at helping children read because she’s basically a “people whisperer.”
“The dog can just look at you and know something is bothering you – that something is wrong with you,” the Burleson resident said. “And then you can touch her and the pain goes away. It’s a moment of healing.”
Becky Propp, youth services librarian at the Burleson Library, became involved with Dog Tales about a year ago, when library attendance during the summer was low. Promoting Dog Tales changed that.
“We did a lot of social media and made sure there were lots of flyers,” Propp said. “This has been a big help for young struggling readers.”
This reading program runs 10 a.m. to noon for two Saturdays a month.
“We sign up children to participate in 15-minute increments,” Propp said. “And now, there are some weeks we are booked full. Kids read for 15 minutes and have a special kind of experience. They really enjoy it.”
Robinette said she has been involved with Dog Tales and similar area programs for awhile. At one point, she was taking Natasha to soothe children at four DFW area schools. Now Robinette and Natasha are sharing the program in two schools – Burleson ISD’s Brock Elementary and a Mansfield school. They also make a point of visiting nursing homes to help the elderly.
Robinette obviously adores Natasha, who turns 8 in December.
“I got her from a breeder at 10 weeks,” she said. “I started her (therapy dog) training at five months, and by the time she was 18 months old, we were ready to go out.”
The origins of their relationship trace back to when Robinette lost her first husband to a stroke years ago.
When Robinette was visiting her husband in a nursing center hospice house near, Dunkirk, Maryland, she saw a therapy dog easing the pain of family members.
“You could just sit there and touch this dog and some of the stress would be taken from you,” she said. “It just made you feel – different.”
Robinette decided she wanted her own therapy dog.
“I came back here to Texas and prayed on it, and prayed and prayed,” she said.
Robinette then spoke with a breeder. Natasha was born in December 2009.
“It was wonderful when she came into my life,” Robinette said.
Robinette said Natasha – who sleeps at night in her own bed – is uncanny with her ability to help ease pain.
“I was in a car crash a few weeks ago and I was depressed for weeks. She knew something was wrong and refused to leave my side,” she said.
In terms of the children Natasha has helped, Robinette remembers one little boy in particular who was too nervous to read out loud when he first started reading with Natasha. However, after a few visits from the Golden Doodle, the child was reading just fine.
“The dog won’t judge these children,” Robinette said. “It really warms my heart to see the rewards everyone gets from this.”