Listening With Furry Ears

German Professor Doris Kirshner’s Great Dane, Sharif, is a 136-pound reading coach. “Reading researchers have found that children who are normally hesitant to read actually enjoy reading to a dog,” explains Kirchner. “While therapy dogs have long been used in hospitals, senior centers, and as service animals, the idea for using them for reading is relatively new.”

While Sharif has not been trained as a therapy dog, he has been evaluated by a professional training representative from Therapy Dogs International for his weekly stints at Barbara Montecalvo’s class at Fishing Cove School in North Kingstown. The gentle giant has nerves of steel. He doesn’t blink an eyelid when metal doors get slammed or twitch when third graders flip his ears back and forth.

Students read to Sharif one at a time and seem to enjoy it. A student who starts off hesitantly will, by the third chapter, read with more confidence. A student generally has to be told to stop because others are waiting.

“I love teaching and reading and I love animals,” Kirshner says. “This just makes sense.”