ALAMOSA – Settling into a comfortable position, Moose gazes at a young reader with warm brown eyes and a gentle attitude, putting them at ease. The child begins to read aloud, hesitant at first but soon gaining confidence as Moose listens with acceptance. Many children in the San Luis Valley community have spent time reading to Moose. Laura Bruneau’s therapy dog, has visited public schools and libraries “listening” as students read to him.
Bruneau, Ph.D., an Adams State University professor of counselor education, recently chronicled Moose’s journey in the children’s chapter book, Moose! The Reading Dog, published by Purdue University Press (March 15, 2018).
Moose and Bruneau are a registered Pet Partners therapy dog team. “Building upon the human-animal bond, canine-assisted reading programs provide a unique way to promote children’s literacy,” Bruneau said. “As patient, non-judgmental listeners, therapy dogs motivate children to improve their reading skills, while boosting their confidence and developing their identity as readers.”
Moose, a nine-year-old St. Bernard-Heeler mix, became a therapy dog seven years ago and the book was born from the idea of describing his true life story, from adopting him from a local shelter to all the volunteer work Bruneau and Moose have competed together.
According to Bruneau, the book is being published at a good time. A growing body of research findings has demonstrated the many benefits of the human-animal bond. “Animal-assisted interventions are increasing in popularity, particularly in the field of psychotherapy. Research studies suggest that animals can hasten the therapeutic relationship between counselor and client, particularly with children. Intentionally incorporating an animal into counseling also helps clients develop attachment skills when giving and receiving love and affection.”
Bruneau has researched the impact of a canine-assisted literacy program with second-grade readers. Her longitudinal, mixed-methods case study examined data from test scores, surveys and interviews with students, and interviews with teachers and parents. Bruneau and her co-authors are working on submitting the findings to a peer-reviewed journal in the area of literacy.
She co-wrote Moose! The Reading Dog, with her mother, Beverly Timmons, Ed.D., a professor emeritus of early childhood literacy from Kent State University. “We combined forces, utilizing each other’s strengths and knowledge,” Bruneau said. They hired San Luis Valley native Mic Ru as an illustrator. “He was able to capture the setting here in the valley, working primarily from actual photographs” The children’s book has six chapters beginning with Moose’s early life, being adopted, his training, his evaluation to become a therapy dog, and the final chapter – reading with kids.
“Moose is a bit a local celebrity,” Bruneau said. “When we are out walking, children are so excited to see him – they all seem to know him.” She always wanted to work with a therapy animal. “I have loved animals all my life and always wanted to work with a therapy animal, it was the next logical step in my career.”
Moose currently listens to young readers from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month at the Alamosa Public Library. He has one more visit planned on May 2.
Caption: Moose patiently listens to Tristin and Meredith McAlpine as they read to him on April 4 at the Alamosa Public Library. Laura Bruneau recently published Moose! The Reading Dog a children’s book about her therapy dog, who will visit the library again on May 2./Photo by Linda Relyea