Therapy Dog Fetches Literacy at NBES

North Buncombe Elementary School (NBES) students have the best reading buddy!

Wrigley, an 8-year-old yellow lab, visits the school every Friday to help striving readers build self-confidence in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. As a reading therapy dog, Wrigley is specially trained to be a good listener. His calm demeanor and friendly presence comfort nervous students. They can pet him and read quietly to themselves, or they can read aloud to him – he’s no critic.

“He doesn’t care if they read slowly and doesn’t laugh when they mispronounce the words,” said NBES Title I Assistant Dr. Emily McCullough, Wrigley’s owner. “Reading becomes fun because he wants to listen to them. He helps them build that confidence and motivation. Since we introduced Wrigley into the Title I program at NBES three years ago, we’ve seen so much growth from the students who work with him. He helps us make gains toward achieving our school’s reading fluency goals for reluctant readers.”

It’s a bit of a Cinderella story for Wrigley, who started life as a roaming stray, frequently getting in trouble with the law (Animal Control).

“One time, an Animal Control officer caught Wrigley in a creek, but he was too big to fit in the truck’s kennel, so the officer put him in the cab,” Dr. McCullough said. “And he got mud everywhere, on the radio, in the vents. Later, when I met that officer, he laughed and said, ‘that’s the dog that trashed my truck!’ He was surprised to see how Wrigley had changed.”

After too many “arrests,” Wrigley ended up as an owner surrender at Asheville Humane Society. Dr. McCullough found him there and felt an instant connection.

“Even though he was energetic, you could tell right away that deep down he was a good dog,” she said. “He was a quick learner. He worked really hard on obedience training, and it became clear that he had the right temperament to interact with students and children based on his interactions with family members and people in the community”

Dr. McCullough, along with NBES Reading Specialist Rebecca Miller, knew how successful reading therapy dog programs could be in the elementary school setting, so Emily set out to get Wrigley certified. The NBES Title I staff learned all the necessary commands and procedures to ensure Wrigley’s successful integration into the Title I program.

“Emily trained this dog because she loves these children and believes in them,” Ms. Miller said. “We all do. We love watching them grow and succeed.”