OCOEE, Fla. – A special learning center is helping students gain confidence reading, with the help of dogs.
Read to Sydney's Reading and Learning Center in the West Oaks Mall offers students the experience of reading to a dog.
"Because a lot of the children with disabilities, dyslexia, things like that, they're embarrassed to read out loud at school. But animals, especially dogs, are not judgmental. The dogs are not going to laugh at them, so they feel comfortable reading to the dog," founder Thom Battisto said.
Battisto said his inspiration for starting Read to Sydney was his therapy dog Sydney, who loved working with children. Sydney has since passed away, but Battisto said Sydney "trained" Toby, one of the dogs that work with the foundation now.
"He knew when Sydney had on her vest, she was working. He would just sit there and watch Sydney. So when he went for his training, we put the vest on and he just knew how to work with the children. He likes to snuggle, give paw, lick their face, but he'll listen to them. He loves hearing stories."
The learning center is now ADA compatible, thanks to a "reading bench." It allows children who use wheel chairs to be face to face with the dogs.
Battisto and the therapy dogs visit schools and libraries. He says all of the resources at the learning center, including a sharing library and 3D printer, are always free of charge.
If you'd like to donate books to the center, you can click here.