Chenango Forks therapy dog participates in ‘Reading with the Retriever’ program

Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 9:07 PM EST
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BINGHAMTON (WBNG) - Before the pandemic, Chenango Forks Elementary School introduced the concept of ‘Reading with the Retriever’ for students. Once a sense of normalcy came back to the district, so did the idea of having a therapy dog within the school halls. Now as students come back from winter break, so does the chocolate lab Otto on every day four in the school’s calendar to meet with a group of students.

School Psychologist Joelle Peltz is Otto’s owner. “I just kind of knew he had good disposition to be able to calm people down, to provide love, and affection,” she said.

To pass testing to be an official therapy dog, Otto went through Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs.

“Once he passed that, he’s able to go into schools, he’s able to go into hospitals, really any other place that a therapy dog can go,” said Peltz.

When it comes to Chenango Forks, the almost 11-year-old dog is no stranger to these halls. For some time now, he has been a part of the school’s ‘Reading with the Retriever’ program.

“When they read to him, he’s nonjudgmental,’ said Peltz. “He provides just a calm, nonjudgmental presence that the kids often feel. They become much more confident in their reading really over the five to six weeks.”

Otto has a number of hats within the school. Peltz said the chocolate lab also helps students with attendance and helps students open up during therapy sessions.

“Students who I have not been able to make a lot of therapeutic progress with, he is just able to calm the whole situation down,” said Peltz. “I notice students want to walk with him in the hallway. It’s a bit of a privilege to meet with Otto.”

Student Conway Malory is now 16 years old, but when he was younger, he benefited from the reading concept with Otto.

“Consistently, I was a better reader because of him,” said the student as he reflected on the past. “I had more opportunities to read while in school. It was less of work and more of something entertaining because there was like a dog involved it that it always makes it more fun.”

Peltz said she has a second dog at home and would love for the younger one to follow in Otto’s footsteps with being a therapy dog.