“A Very Special Place in Our Hearts”: Sadie Helps Children Develop a Love of Reading
Pets Best is pleased to announce the four finalists in our Fourth Annual 2017 Books & Barks Contest. In 2014, Pets Best created the contest to recognize the hard-working and inspirational therapy dogs who visit classrooms and libraries across the nation. These incredible dogs make a positive impact in the lives of children on a daily basis.
Meet Sadie, the seven-year-old Great Pyrenees who is dearly loved both in her community and at Strausser Elementary School in Massillon, Ohio. Now in her fifth year of a therapy dog program, Sadie accompanies her owner and handler, Sheila Stumbo, as she visits the school each week. Strausser’s Polar Pup Program gives students the opportunity to work on reading, comprehension, math, and other learning skills — with the help of certified therapy dogs. Sadie was certified through Pet Partners in 2011, and the duo are members of the Great Pyrenees Club of America and the Heart of Ohio Great Pyrenees Club. Sadie has even been an ambassador for the local park system’s “Tailblazer” program. “I think [having a therapy dog] opens the door to so much,” says Stumbo.
According to Stumbo, it’s uncommon for Great Pyrenees to be therapy dogs, because they tend to be “very stubborn and independent thinkers,” and “don’t need humans to tell them what to do,” she explains. “But I’m stubborn too and like a good challenge,” says Stumbo. So, despite the dog’s strong-willed nature and getting a late start in the dog therapy program (five months is typically a bit on the older side to begin the process), Sadie made great progress — with the help of a diligent and patient trainer. At an early age, it was also apparent she was drawn to kids. “If a child was crying, she’d lose total focus on me and be concerned about that child.”
Today, her love for children is seen in her ability to work successfully with students who are struggling to read or may have behavioral issues. “She is so sweet and attentive to the children,” says Lisa Durkin, a first-grade teacher at Strausser Elementary. “Sadie holds a very special place in our hearts and has made a difference in the excitement of reading for children. All the students beg to read to Sadie each week.”
Durkin believes Sadie’s appearance makes her all the more approachable. “I smile when I think of her,” she says. “When you look at her, you just want to go up and pet her because she’s so big, white, and fluffy!” Not to mention, the school district’s mascot is a polar bear. There’s no denying it: one look at Sadie and it’s clear she fits right in.
It’s not just her physical characteristics that make her so welcoming, but also her demeanor. When someone is in need, Sadie really does want to help.
“I like to make a difference and my dogs have helped me do that,” says Stumbo. “Maybe they’ve helped someone who was down and out, or maybe they helped someone who wasn’t a great reader. And I can relate to that,” she adds. “I remember sitting at my desk as a child and praying the teacher wouldn’t call on me because I wasn’t a great reader. But dogs aren’t judgmental.” To alleviate some of the pressure from children who may be struggling to read, she will often remark, ‘Sadie said that was a big word!’ Sometimes the kids will ask, ‘How do you know what she’s thinking?’ and I’ll say, “Oh, we’re just close,” she relates.
“Close” may be an understatement. When Hope, another Great Pyrenees and Stumbo’s first of three therapy dogs, succumbed to cancer, her absence left a void. Stumbo had her own bout with the disease a few years prior, and she found great comfort in Hope’s presence. “Little did I know I’d have a therapy dog — who I used to help other people — lie beside me when I wasn’t feeling well,” she says. Soon after the dog’s passing, she adopted Sadie. “I lost Hope dog two-and-a-half years ago, and I feel like Sadie has been that surrogate.”
And thanks to Sadie’s presence, the students at Strausser Elementary have also thrived. “I think it enriches all our lives to have dogs,” says Stumbo. “Kids learn so much from them.”
Books & Barks Contest Information
If you enjoyed reading about Sadie, stay tuned for more stories about our Books & Barks finalists. Visit the Pets Best Facebook page to vote for your favorite therapy dog starting on March 23rd and ending on March 30th, 2017.
The therapy dog finalist with the most public votes will win! The school, library, or program mentioned in the winner’s nomination story will receive $1,000 from Pets Best and the therapy dog’s owner will receive $500 to donate to their animal non-profit of choice.
If you missed this year’s contest, you can still nominate your favorite therapy dog for next year’s 2018 Books & Barks Contest.