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Therapy dog serves as reading aide at Hernando Christian Academy

BROOKSVILLE — Sarah is new this year at Hernando Christian Academy. She isn't a student, but then again she isn't a person. Sarah is a dog, a working dog, owned by Joy and Robert Bostrom.

Sarah originally was trained to be a guide dog, but not all dogs master the necessary skills. Sarah was one of those. She has what it takes, though, to be a therapy dog, so the Bostroms went that route, and it seems to suit Sarah.

She visits nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and Hernando Christian Academy. Robert Bostrom taught at the school for 16 years, so Joy Bostrom called the school to offer Sarah as a therapy reading dog.

"She just sits and listens, and they found if kids don't want to read to parents or other adults or even their peers, they'll read to a dog and improve their reading," Joy Bostrom said. "It works."

Sarah has learned to sit or stand quietly, walk on the left side of the hallway and stop and look when she gets to corners.

"And, obviously, not bark and annoy people," Joy Bostrom said.

She has a health certificate and insurance papers in a vest she wears.

At Hernando Christian Academy, RISE (Restoring Individuals to Successful Education) teacher Konnie Nazario was receptive to the therapy dog idea.

"We figured it would be the perfect fit," Nazario said, citing research that indicated the use of a therapy dog increased reading fluency by 12 percent in 10 weeks.

Hernando Christian is expanding the idea by encouraging parents to have their children read to pets or even younger siblings.

"When you struggle with reading, it's so much anxiety," Nazario said. "But with the dog there's no stress. She's just there to listen, and that builds confidence."