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Therapy dog helps give children confidence in reading at Bridgeville library

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
David Mayernik | Bridgeville Area News
Mia Vester, 9, reads to Walter, a certified reading therapy dog, at the Bridgeville Public Library on June 21, 2014.

Mia Vester read to a captive audience recently at the Bridgeville Public Library.

“The kids in kindergarten seemed like GIANTS to me, and they knew how to do stuff like cut with scissors and color inside the lines,” said Mia, 9, reading from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel.”

She read the words to Walter, a pit bull mix, as he rested on the carpet June 21 at the library.

Walter is a certified reading therapy dog that visits the library each month so children can read to him in a friendly, non-judgmental environment, said his owner, Lynn Ready Aspiotes of Bridgeville.

Mia, of Bridgeville said she enjoyed the experience more than reading to her own Shetland sheepdog, Sasha. “It was fun, because my doggy doesn't sit still,” she said.

Ready Aspiotes rescued Walter about three years ago from a shelter at the Jefferson County Humane Society in Steubenville, Ohio. Because he's a rescue dog, she's not certain of his breed. She guesses he's between 10 and 13 years old.

Walter was found wandering the streets, until someone called the shelter.

“A friend who works at the shelter told me about him because she knows I love pit bulls and old dogs. We rescue a lot of old dogs,” she said.

It wasn't long until she realized he could help others.

“I had Walter for three days and I said to my husband, ‘He'd make an excellent therapy dog.' One of our older dogs was a therapy dog, so I knew the kind of disposition and temperament the dog needed,” she said.

“It became very quickly apparent that he had that demeanor and that calm, gentle disposition. Wonderful with people. Excellent with kids.”

Ready Aspiotes, a substitute teacher in the Chartiers Valley School District, trained Walter in her back yard to follow simple commands such as sit, stay and come.

He then passed the Good Citizen Test, administered by the American Kennel Club, and Therapy Dogs International requirements.

Therapy Dogs International, based in Flanders, N.J., tests dogs by having 10 or 20 people making loud noises around them and throwing a bucket behind them to gauge the animals' reactions.

“Everyone always says: ‘He's a therapy dog, that's why he's so calm.' But I always say it's just the opposite of that. He's a therapy dog because he's so calm,” she said.

Walter visits Bridgeville's library once a month. He also has visited residents at Country Meadows retirement community in South Fayette and participates in a program with other dogs — including other pit bulls a dachshund and Golden Retriever — at Chartiers Valley Primary School.

Ready Aspiotes said motivating children is a key to getting them to become lifelong readers.

“As a reading specialist myself, I know that building kids' achievement and success in reading has so much to do with motivation,” she said.

“When I'm sitting there, I let the kids go, let them read, let them build confidence, let them enjoy reading to the dog. But when I do private tutoring, it's all about helping and assisting and modeling.”

Walter always receives a positive reaction from children.

“They just love it. Everyone's so positive and loves Walter. We get repeat kids who come back again and again. One little girl brings a bone and toys,” Ready Aspiotes said.

Visits to the library and elsewhere also allow her to showcase the 70-pound Walter's demeanor. And he gets along famously with Ready Aspiotes' 7-pound Pomeranian at home.

“It allows me to show people what this bread really, really is like,” she said.

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