October 22, 2009 - bark for books
When he was three years old, Caiden started to stutter. A lot of children do around that age, especially the smart ones.
Most of the time, kids grow out of it. It's a synchronization issue. Neurologically speaking, learning to match brain speed to vocal articulation is a surprisingly complex thing.
The right thing for parents to do, incidentally, is to have patience. Love and encouragement is the ticket. Slow it down. Sing to and with them. With really astonishing speed, kids sort it out.
But Caiden's dad was, well, kind of a jerk. He mocked Caiden. He fake-stuttered, too, loud and long, then laughed. He interrupted and exaggerated Caiden's more difficult phrases.
Before long, Caiden's occasional stutter had turned into a serious and persistent problem.
Caiden's dad was abusive in other ways, too. Eventually Caiden's mom kicked him out.
But the damage, it seemed, was done. Caiden's stuttering isolated him all the way through kindergarten, and seemed likely to follow him through first grade, where he was just learning to read.
And he was learning fast. Caiden was so bright. It broke his mother's heart that when he tried to read out loud, his stammering frustrated him so.
Enter Cagney. Cagney was a greyhound - but not a very fast one. After Cagney failed to even place after four races in a row, his owner decided to let him go. The Colorado Greyhound Adoption people rescued him and placed him with an older and childless couple.
This couple trained Cagney in the Bark for Books program. They'd noticed that for some reason, Cagney just loved children. He'd fold himself up on his big floor pillow and look adoringly at any youngster that came along.
Caiden's mother hadn't planned to sign Caiden up for the program. But when they came into the library one afternoon, he watched Cagney with fascination as a little girl read to him.
The timing was such that just as the little girl had to leave, and before Caiden's mom knew quite what was happening, Caiden plopped down beside the dog, and opened a book. Caiden started trying to read.
The mother cringed inside. Caiden's stammering was pronounced. After a particularly painful passage, Caiden looked up, anxious and half-angry, right at the dog
Then something wonderful happened.
Cagney, as greyhounds sometimes will, stretched out a paw and set it on Caiden's thigh. Cagney gazed deeply and steadily into Caiden's eyes, radiating calm. It was a look of utter acceptance and love.
Then, amazingly, Caiden seemed to relax. He started reading again, and this time he did much better. And Cagney seemed to like the story a lot, Caiden said later.
It didn't happen all at once. Caiden also saw a speech therapist. But that was the turning point.
Caiden is in fourth grade now. He just got the lead in a school play. One weekend, he even got to take Cagney home when the childless couple was travelling.
Caiden doesn't stutter anymore.
Recently, a library director got an email. It ended like this: "I thank the library, and that wonderful dog, for saving the life of my son."
LaRue's Views are his own
[Note: although all the details of this story are true, they were drawn from several families. I combined incidents and changed a few names. Here's what doesn't change: sometimes, often, dogs demonstrate way more kindness, presence, and attention than people do.]