Therapy Dogs On Zoom
May 13, 2020
Nicholas Gaiani grinned as he narrated the lyrics to a beloved Louis Armstrong song for his furry audience on Zoom from his home in Bethesda.
“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world,” Nicholas, 6, read from the illustrated book version of the song, as he does each week during his “Read to a PAL Therapy Dog!” session.
The Washington-based nonprofit group called People. Animals. Love. has switched its in-person meetups to virtual sessions during the pandemic to serve hundreds of kids per month who are practicing reading.
No hard feelings. They’re judgment-free sessions, so dog naps are okay. And if new readers want to strut their stuff – or even if they struggle with some words – that’s all right, too.
PAL coordinates about 500 individually owned dogs and a few cats to provide comfort to people in places such as care facilities, libraries and prisons. During the pandemic, the young readers program moved online to keep the service going.
Kids are often frightened if a teacher asks them to read in front of the classroom, but they are not intimidated by dogs, which makes the pooches a more comfortable audience.
“He’s enjoying meeting the different types of dogs, and he gets excited when he recognizes a name,” said Gaiani, 41. “He’s just been happy to read to someone other than his parents. It’s been a really good outlet for that.”
The Zoom sessions are also helping Nicholas, a kindergartner at Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda, cope with isolation.
“In the beginning, the kids were excited to be home. . . . Now, some of that excitement has worn off,” she said. “He misses his friends. This is something for him to look forward to – something different in his daily routine.”