I'm letting mom write this blog entry. She said that she wanted to explain how Read to Roo came to be. Apparently she didn't like my idea of telling everyone that I just really love books and kids, plain and simple! Here's Tina...take it away!
Most of us live our lives day to day with things hidden beneath the surface that we are passionate about. Secret talents or neglected hobbies or desires to pursue a dream that drive us silently mad with desire for the unknown fulfillment we could have and keeps that inner flame stoked, but quietly burning. I've been blessed to know many wonderful people in my life and seen glimpses of their greatness, only to watch them silently shelf it for the normalcy we all come to expect with everyday life. For years I had felt this way, as if an important part of me was being hidden and denied, all for the sake of trying to live the typical 9 to 5 lifestyle. Then suddenly, my world began to fall apart.
|My little munchkin wearing a patch with pride|
I was only 28 years old at the time and had been working as a Deputy Sheriff in a 911 Communications Center for a little over two years when I got the news. Budget cuts had finally caught up to me and my last day would come right around Christmastime. It was a tough blow for me, as I loved my job more than I could say. I was raised in a law enforcement family and this job had come at just the right time in my life. It was a perfect fit for me. Now, it was all slipping away. They could not promise me how long the layoff would last, though they thought it would only be for a few months. They couldn't guarantee it would not be permanent. I told them I understood and that I would be fine, though I wasn't sure I would be.
My mother had received the first phone call from me on my way home. I cannot say that I remember it at all, nor am I sure that I want to. I just remember feeling as if I was a disappointment to my family, to my daughter. How could I be a good role model to her now? She was 5 years old and impressionable, a wonderful little soul who was so quick and bright that I knew in an instant she would know that something was going on. I was thankful that my mother agreed to keep her that night while my husband and I talked.
|A real nose for sniffing out those in need of hugs and kisses|
I went home and did what any girl who’s ever had her heart broken would do: I locked myself in my bedroom and cried until no tears, no noise any longer came from my body. I felt broken, empty. I sat there in the quiet of my house, face down on my bed and tried to think of a plan. Nothing came. Frustrated with myself, I rolled over to get up and found myself face to face with my answer, in disguise. (The fool I was, I did not know it at the time) My gentle, kind dog Roo had heard me crying and as he often does when he knows someone is upset or sick, he stands at the edge of the bed. He is just the right height to place his head softly on the covers and watch over you, whether you choose to acknowledge him or not. Seeing him standing there, obviously aware of my sadness, I could not help but be grateful for his compassion and friendship. I gave him a hug and kissed him on his big collie nose.
That is not the first time I have ever been grateful for this gangling dog’s presence in my life, nor will it ever be the last. He has been a true friend and a companion to all he meets from the day I picked him up all those years ago. Rooney (his full name) was special from the moment he was born and I think fate had a different plan for him than the one he was intended for. He was born into a show litter, bred of show dog lines by two beautiful smooth collie parents. Destined for the show ring, Roo was - and is - stunning, from his coloration to his conformation to his bite to his personality. There is just one tiny disqualifier. His lucky foot.
|Keeping the Lucky Foot clean is a must|
An endearing nickname given to his front left foot, you can see an obvious deformity to the narrowed limb and number of toes. We feel it kept him out of the show ring and brought him to us, so it was lucky…and it does look suspiciously like a rabbit’s foot. It does give him a little problem every now and again, like arthritis, which flares with the weather conditions. A brace was specially ordered for him to help him on those days when he is painful and he wears his turquoise and black wrap with dignity. He also walks with a different gait than most dogs do and it almost looks like a horse’s trot.
Physical characteristics aside, the personality of this canine is something I could go on for days about. He is the kindest, most gentle dog I have ever known. Roo is very affectionate towards all people and all species of animal. Our other dogs, cats and even our chickens have all experienced his mothering and tolerate it with different degrees of acceptance. The primary targets of his fondness, however, have always been children. In those first few weeks of being at home full time, and having my daughter at home with me, I began to notice something: Roo would be her constant shadow. (We had decided that I would remain at home during the layoff and look for a job in a few months if the layoff seemed permanent)
|Meredith Reading to Roo in later years|
Meredith would pick up a toy and play with it; Roo would lay beside her. Meredith would watch a TV show; Roo would lay beside her. We would read a book; Roo would lay beside us. Meredith would go to the bathroom; Roo would wait outside the door. Meredith would take a nap; Roo would try to lay with her…then if he was denied, lay beside the bed. Sensing a pattern here? I did too. I decided to use it. We were already working on letter sounds and words for school, so I began asking Meredith to read the flashcards to Roo instead of me. At first she thought that was silly, so of course she loved the idea! Slowly we built on that and began progressing into books. It was a natural fit. I knew this was a concept that had worked for others before, as I had heard of library dogs in larger cities. I began to wonder if Roo might be able to become a library dog.
|Roo's picture Graduation Day|
I had not even noticed, but this had brought me right out of my slump I was in about my layoff, and ignited my inner passions for things I loved: reading, animals, working with children and doing something positive. Rather than sitting around, obsessing about money and when my phone would ring about being called back to work, my wonderful family encouraged and supported me to pursue this dream of helping others. I began researching, then working to pass the requirements for both myself and for Roo to become a registered pet therapy team.
|Roo & I as a visiting team for Read to Roo|
We achieved dual registration with Pet Partners (formerly known as Delta Society) and with Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) and are now able to visit in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, rest centers and other facilities that are in need of therapy animals. We started a local subgroup of Reading Education Assistance Dogs in our local area for our school that we call Read to Roo, and we visit several days a week to have students read to Roo. Every day that we walk into the school building Roo is greeted by whispers of his name, friendly pets on the head and little waves hello from the hallway. He may not be able to greet his friends by name, but you can tell by the slow wag of his tail and the sparkle in his eye that he knows the love they have for him, and it is returned to them tenfold.
|One of our favorite things this year|
was handing out books to the 1st grade
students at Christmas
I returned to work a few months after being laid off. Working full time and volunteering can prove to be a juggling act at times but I can say that I don’t regret a single moment of it. A few years ago I thought my world was falling apart when in reality, it was coming together. Our program has flourished by the support of the school, community, and from the Animals for Life Foundation who generously provided us a grant to for the 2012-2013 school year. I am so grateful to the love and support that we have been shown and hope to keep this program going for years to come.
Most of us live our lives day to day with things hidden beneath the surface that we are passionate about. Secret talents or neglected hobbies or desires to pursue a dream that drive us silently mad with desire for the unknown fulfillment we could have and keeps that inner flame stoked, but quietly burning. Today, my dreams burn brightly and I watch the flames dance in delight. I get to enjoy the things I love most with a wonderful group of people who truly appreciate what we do. I am surrounded by a loving, supportive family who encourages me to keep going. I am working on writing Roo's own children’s book to share his special story with the world. Who could ever ask for more?