Therapy comes in a fuzzy, four-legged package at St. Andrew

MYRTLE BEACH—A furry friend offers encouragement to students who need extra help with reading or who struggle with anxiety over tests at St. Andrew School.

Sadie, a lovable, attentive dog with bright eyes and curly hair, comes to their rescue.

She is the personal pet of reading specialist Lynn Tinger and also a certified, trained therapy dog.

Since the fall, Sadie has been coming to school with Tinger four days a week and is present with her all day in her small, bright classroom while she works with students.

Tinger has been working with students at St. Andrew who have learning challenges in reading and language arts for three years now. Currently, 36 youth in kindergarten through eighth grade are part of the school’s program to help students achieve their full academic potential.

The students work with Tinger individually throughout the day.

She became interested in getting a therapy dog when she learned how well the dogs can help children with anxiety about academics and taking tests.

“Therapy dogs are good for helping people lower their anxiety levels in many situations,” Tinger said. “That is why they are common these days in places like airports and hospitals. Sadie can sense when someone is stressed, uneasy or nervous about something and she can help them relax. Children gravitate toward her.”

Thirteen-month-old Sadie is a breed of dog that is nicknamed a “double doodle,” because her father is a poodle and her mother is a “golden doodle,” a mix between a golden retriever and a poodle. She has the long legs and the short, curly hair of a poodle combined with the loving attitude and playfulness of a golden retriever, a disposition which makes her ideal for working with children. Tinger got her from a breeder in the mountains of Georgia called Heartlight Companion Dogs.

Both she and Sadie have gone through extensive training to prepare for their time in the classroom.

“She doesn’t get too flustered by too many things; she’s affectionate and loves to get attention,” Tinger said. “Sadie is definitely a people dog.”

Sadie offers a wide range of encouragement to students. Sometimes she will simply sit nearby when a student reads aloud for Tinger or goes through other lessons.

“She has been trained so she can just sit and listen to a story,” Tinger said. “Children who are nervous about reading can be hesitant to read out loud, but Sadie is there listening without judgment. Through her, they can learn to enjoy reading.”

If a student is acting anxious over a test question or a lesson, she will often crawl underneath the small table next to the student and rest her head on their foot while they work. Even a simple gesture like that from a therapy dog can make all the difference for a child.

“You will see the anxiety leave them when she does that,”  Tinger said. “They will calm down and begin to be able to work through the problem.”

Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Lynn Tinger, reading specialist at St. Andrew School, holds her therapy dog Sadie.