Like most 10-year-olds, Barney gets to enjoy a carefree summer.
The trained St. Bernard, who helps kids gain confidence in their reading, is back from vacation. His first Paws to Read session of the school year will be 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Elkhart Public Library’s downtown location.
Parents can sign up their children for the 15-minute sessions by calling 574-522-2223.
<< Space is limited – call 574-522-2223 to get your child time with Barney >>
“The kids get to interact with something that loves unconditionally. He’s just a good listener – he absorbs every word and he doesn’t interrupt or correct or question them,” handler Renee Langdon says. “I’ve been blessed to be able to work with him and watch the children improve.”
Barney’s journey to become a therapy dog was difficult. Langdon rescued him eight years ago after he was abandoned near Wakarusa. He already was blind and had leg injuries consistent with abuse, she says.
“He had to learn to trust again,” Langdon says. “He couldn’t walk on a leash. You couldn’t put him in a car. The injuries to his front left leg weren’t anything that couldn’t be repaired, but it was a rough start.”
He eventually defeated his fears and became a good companion to Drew, Langdon’s first St. Bernard. Despite his blindness, Barney eventually passed the same exam required for certification as a registered Pet Partners therapy dog.
Pet-assistance therapy goes beyond guide dogs. They provide comfort at hospital entrances, Langdon says, and companionship at nursing homes. They have visited schools and libraries regularly, too.
Langdon has committed her volunteer time for years to working with children, particularly those challenged by autism or disability. She worked with Reins of Life for therapeutic horseback riding until, physically, she couldn’t meet the demands of mucking stalls and hauling hay bales.
She says she adopted a St. Bernard because she always wanted one growing up. During her first three years, Langdon volunteered several hours each week making visits. After Drew passed on and with Barney advancing in years, she’s had to scale back to schedule.
“I think this is best described as giving and receiving love. Barney takes it in and he dishes it out – it’s his job to love,” Langdon says.