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Bentley ready to share duties with other dogs

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Third-grade students at St. Michael School (from left) Emma Berty, Lincoln Baker and Mary Ellen Strattman, read as Bentley listens. (Photo/Tom Russo/Daily reporter)
Third-grade students at St. Michael School (from left) Emma Berty, Lincoln Baker and Mary Ellen Strattman, read as Bentley listens. (Photo/Tom Russo/Daily reporter)

GREENFIELD — Attention all Hancock County dogs: Bentley the wonder reading dog is in the weeds and needs a little help.

For over three years, Bentley the Great Pyrenees has been listening to area kids read at schools, libraries and local businesses, and he’s gotten so good at it, even four legs can’t keep up with the demand.

“He’s very much outnumbered,” Bentley’s owner, Nickie Scott, said recently as Bentley prepped to listen to Jane Mosier’s St. Michael School third–graders read by allowing his belly to be scratched.

Currently, Bentley sees about 200 kids each week, calmly listening as they read aloud to him. Only he knows what’s truly going on: The big white dog is quietly helping kids improve their reading skills.

“The kiddos are in a very safe environment when they’re reading to him,” said Mosier, who started with Bentley with her pre-kindergarten class about four years ago. “Nobody is judging them, and they’re more comfortable and confident.

“(Students) really look forward to having Bentley here. The days he doesn’t come they’re very upset,” Mosier said.

Given the high demand, Woofs and Books, the Noblesville-based non-profit that promotes dual goals of pet adoption and reading development, is recruiting suitable dogs to help Bentley out.

Scott, who is Woofs and Books organizer for Hancock and Johnson counties, said the group is seeking “calm, mature” dogs that can be trained for the role.

Those who think their pet has the right stuff to sit with a class of kids can go online to www.woofsandbooks.org to fill out an application, which will be followed by Scott’s initial evaluation.

“We’re looking for dogs that don’t jump, mouth, bite, that are good with kids and other people,” Scott said.

Canines that pass the first cut must then advance through the American Kennel Club’s “Canine Good Citizen” test before they’re allowed to listen.

Currently there are four dogs acting as reading buddies in some capacity in Hancock County, Scott said. However, next year, the program hopes to add additional agencies and schools.

And there’s more to the job than just sitting quietly while kids read.

“When (Bentley) comes into the classroom, he becomes part of the classroom,” Scott said.

“Bentley is very comforting,” said Mosier. “He can sense if it’s been a bad morning, and when he gets here, you can feel the tension easing. It’s been a great program.

Owen Sickels, one of Mosier’s students who recently read Bentley a science lesson on undersea animals, said it was important that the dog simply allows him to read.

“He doesn’t make corrections when you make mistakes,” Sickels said.

Becky Teeguarden, owner of Greenfield’s Nutty Mutt, where Bentley makes regular appearances, said he and dogs like him must have the ability to connect with what they’re doing and those they’re doing it for.

“He’s all about it, and he takes it very seriously,” Teeguarden said. “What I love is how the kids love him. They relax, and that helps their self confidence. They really make a connection.”

Scott said Books and Woofs is looking to add as many dogs as it can to meet the growing demand.

For more information, visit the organization’s website or contact Scott at (317) 462-4202.

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