Reading Rescue: Loving Labrador Helps Kids Learn Literacy

Abandoned puppy rises above thanks to adopted love

Jasper is a Labrador of many skills. One of them happens to be helping kids learn to read. He doesn’t teach them the alphabet — instead, he listens to children read so they can gain confidence in their skills.

He’s helped dozens of kids so far during his time as a Reading Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D.). In the years to come, he’ll help many more.

From rags to riches

Jasper is even more special because of his ability to overcome adversity. When he was just 10 weeks old, Jasper and his 11 brothers and sisters were abandoned in a shed in Jacksonville, Florida. Luckily, neighbors heard the puppies’ cries and immediately called a local animal welfare group to rescue the pups.

Jasper was malnourished and a mere 2-1/2 pounds when the group saved him. With the proper care and attention, he recovered, put on weight and soon, he was ready to look for a home.

Jasper and his littermates took the adoption floor at a PetSmart Charities® adoption event in October, 2011. The other puppies quickly found homes, and Jasper was the last one left.

That’s where Linda Tipton came in. She had a reading therapy dog named Maggie, but she was getting older. Linda knew it was time to add to her family.

She wanted to check out the PetSmart Charities adoption event to look for a dog who was at least a year old. That’s the age a dog has to be to enter the reading therapy program.

But with one look at young Jasper, her heart melted. "He was very little, and I felt like he needed a lot of love," Linda said. "And he returned it."

Energetic puppy excels at training

Linda knew she had her work cut out for her, but she was up for the challenge. She enrolled Jasper in training immediately.

It turns out that Jasper was an energetic puppy. “Many people didn’t think he would be able to complete the training program. But after the first week of training, I knew he could listen,” Linda said.

reading therapy dogJasper graduated his advanced classes that November. About a month later, Therapy Dogs, Inc. declared Jasper a certified therapy dog and a member of Pawsitive Pets in Jacksonville, Florida.

Ready, set, read

When Jasper was a year old, he started visiting the same school that Maggie attended to become a R.E.A.D.

He now goes to the school once a week. "The teachers will pick students who need a little more self-esteem or practice with reading. And that's what they do for the 30 minutes. They usually have 3 or 4 children at school, and they take turns reading to Jasper," Linda said.

Jasper loves every minute he spent with his students, and his students love him. He could be tongue-out, tail-wagging full of excitement, but as soon as Linda lays down his reading blanket, he is ready to listen.

"The teachers say the students practice reading before Jasper comes to visit because they want to read so well to him," Linda said.

Jasper helps struggling student

While Jasper has helped many students, he made a special difference for one boy in particular. Claude was mourning the loss of his mother when he started struggling in school.

“He had to be held back in third grade,” Linda said. “But when Jasper stepped in to help, Claude just excelled that year. He ended up with straight As.”

Jasper is now in his third year as a R.E.A.D., and Linda is glad she took a chance on him through adoption. “I just try to encourage people to rescue a dog,” she said. “Why pay $400 for a purebred when you can get so much love from a rescue dog?”

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