Working together: Paws for Love helps young readers build their skills

July 2018 Posted in Community, Your Health

Anne Spalding and Vuelie. Nancy Jennings

By Nancy Jennings

Her white work van reads: “Paws For Love Therapy Dogs, Inc.: Teaching You to Safely Share Your Pet with Others.” Patty Storkel, 65, has been director of the Salem-based organization since 1999. A member of the Silver Falls Kennel Club, she hopes others will share even more of their pets – with the help of local supporters. “We desperately need sponsors and a board member or two from Silverton,” she hinted, adding that more volunteers are always needed. “We’ve been involved with library therapy dogs for 10 years now.”

Silverton resident Anne Spalding and her four-year-old Belgian Tervuren, “Vuelie,” are presently volunteers at the “Reading to Dogs” program at the Mount Angel Library. They have been for two years.

Nancy Ferrell and “Maggie,” her 11-year-old Old English Sheepdog, also volunteered there for three years. (They have recently retired from the program.) Both dogs were certified through Storkel’s program.

The bonding activity of reading books to the dogs brings joy to children, who have fun while boosting their confidence and improving communication skills. Each child has an allotted 10-minute time slot.

Storkel is quick to describe the differences between a “service/assistance” dog with a “therapy” dog – and stresses the definitions are not interchangeable.

“A service dog is trained specifically for you to assist you in activities of daily living or perhaps a veteran who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These dogs can take up to three years to train. A therapy dog is somebody’s pet that is well-behaved and trained to accompany its owner on visits to nursing homes, libraries or hospitals. Generally, these dogs can be trained in two years.” Cats and mini horses also have been certified.

She added the dogs must be at least a year old, already have basic obedience training – and stresses they go to a class rather than get trained at home. “I’m looking for dogs rock solid in the basics. The dogs then need to pass the American Kennel Club (AKC) test and get a certificate.”

Generally, any breed or mix is acceptable. “What we look for are dogs that are very people oriented,” Storkel said.  How well does the owner and the dog communicate? Can the owner recognize their dog’s body language? Is their dog fearful? Can they back them off an intimidating stimulus?”

Ten scenarios are part of the testing process, including the dog being around wheelchairs, walking devices (walkers or canes) and navigating through crowds. Storkel has a specific need for men or children over the age of 10 to help with scenario practice sessions. Some can load and unload “props” onto trucks, and others can become “actors” in scenarios. She said it can take up to two hours to stage a “mini” nursing home.

For information on the Paws For Love Therapy Dogs, contact Storkel at 503-871-5200, email or visit the website To read to “Vuelie,” register by calling the Mount Angel Library at 503-845-6401.
The “Read to Dogs” program is available once a month on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. *UPDATE: Both Dogs have been retired from this program.

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