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updated: 2/2/2011 11:05 AM

Raymond Ellis students read to dogs

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  • Ruger, a Rottweiler, sits with fifth-grade students during reading exercises at Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach.

       Ruger, a Rottweiler, sits with fifth-grade students during reading exercises at Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Fifth-grade student Christopher Macias, 10, pets Bitz, a pit bull, as students read in class at Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach.

       Fifth-grade student Christopher Macias, 10, pets Bitz, a pit bull, as students read in class at Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Bitz, a pit bull, is brought in by dog handlers Karen Boeing and Traci McCarthy, left, to sit with fifth-grade reading students at Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach. Jasmin Martinez, 11, is to the right.

       Bitz, a pit bull, is brought in by dog handlers Karen Boeing and Traci McCarthy, left, to sit with fifth-grade reading students at Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach. Jasmin Martinez, 11, is to the right.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Ruger, a Rottweiler, sits with fifth-grade students as dog handlers Karen Boeing and Traci McCarthy bring the dogs to Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach. The therapy dogs help students build confidence in their reading skills.

       Ruger, a Rottweiler, sits with fifth-grade students as dog handlers Karen Boeing and Traci McCarthy bring the dogs to Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach. The therapy dogs help students build confidence in their reading skills.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Esmeralda Gurrola, 10, in blue, reads aloud as Bitz, a pit bull, sits with fifth-grade students. Dog handlers Karen Boeing, left, and Traci McCarthy, holding Bitz, bring the dogs to Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach as part of a program to help fifth-graders improve their reading skills.

       Esmeralda Gurrola, 10, in blue, reads aloud as Bitz, a pit bull, sits with fifth-grade students. Dog handlers Karen Boeing, left, and Traci McCarthy, holding Bitz, bring the dogs to Raymond Ellis School in Round Lake Beach as part of a program to help fifth-graders improve their reading skills.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
By C.L. Waller

Ruger knows what it's like being discriminated against.

Descending from a pedigree that dates back to ancient Rome, his kind is often perceived as threatening, even menacing.

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But for students in a fifth-grade class at Raymond Ellis Elementary School in Round Lake Beach, the 110 pounds of Rottweiler simply represents a pet willing to lie at their feet while they read aloud to him.

"He helps us. He helps us concentrate on our work," said fifth-grader Rosa Rangel, a student in Dana Wieland's classroom.

Student Esmeralda Gurrola added, "When you read to someone and they tell you it's wrong, you get angry. But Ruger doesn't say anything."

Joining Ruger about once a month in Wieland's classroom are Bitz, a bouncy year-old boxer-pit bull mix, and Kali, a golden retriever. All are certified therapy dogs through Therapy Dog International and owned by Karen Boeing of Trevor, Wis., a longtime friend of Wieland.

Wieland said she remembers her friend asking about volunteering to bring Ruger into the classroom for the first time about four years ago. Her first response was it was a great idea, but she was not sure how to incorporate a Rottweiler into her lesson plans.

Since then, she has a yearly ritual of spending three weeks preparing students for the dogs and incorporating reading and writing lessons throughout the school year with Ruger as the focal point and the incentive. Stories written by her students about Ruger are posted on a bulletin board outside the classroom.

"These dogs can be portrayed as vicious dogs, but they can be so sweet," she said, adding students not only practice reading with the dog, but they also learn about how to behave around a dog in case they do not have one of their own.

"The dog immediately puts students at ease," she said. "I have had students who wouldn't read aloud; they had no confidence."

Student Christopher Macias said he likes how Ruger always stares at him while he's reading.

"He's really, really cute," Christopher said.

Karen Boeing, who stays with each dog while students are interacting with them, got Ruger eight years ago when he was just 6 weeks old. She said she answered a newspaper ad about puppies after her golden retriever and Rottweiler died within weeks of one another.

Her plan was to train Ruger in agility, but he had a major ligament injury followed by surgery in three of four legs, so agility training was out, Boeing said. To keep him active, she enrolled him in training as a therapy dog.

Unfortunately, she said attempts to have him use his training as a therapy dog were limited as he was discriminated against because of his breed.

She said Ruger is fortunate Ellis Principal Bill Pritchard had confidence in the breed and the therapy dog training.

"He loves the kids," she said.

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