By MELISSA REGENITTER Muscatine Journal
LETTS, Iowa - Scooter is always excited to go to school. The 5-year-old waits by the window for his ride to show up and is eager to see all of his new friends at Louisa-Muscatine schools. "He's such a good dog," Valerie Vineyard-Gipple said of Scooter, her yellow Labrador, which recently became a certified therapy dog. Scooter was introduced as L-M's school dog about three weeks ago and he visits three or four days a week. Much of his time is spent in the classroom of Diane Vineyard, Valeries mother. Vineyard teaches students with learning and behavior challenges and Scooter is there to bring a smile to the students. "When someone is having a challenging day he picks them right out of the classroom," Vineyard said. "There was a student that didn't want to learn and he kept taking his nose and nudging his arm." Just having Scooter around comforts students and they respect him and are nice to him, she added. Scooter will be 6 on Christmas Day. He was chosen as a family pet as a puppy by Valerie and her husband, Seth, of Wapello. He is loving and docile, which inspired Valerie to train him for certification through Therapy Dogs International. Therapy Dogs International is a volunteer, nonprofit group with many handlers and testing facilities across the United States, Canada and some other countries. Through training, Valerie learned of the Tail Waggin Tutors reading program and took on the initiative to bring it to L-M. She volunteers by taking Scooter to L-M Elementary School twice a week, allowing students to read aloud to him in a one-on-one setting. The sessions are helpful to students who need encouragement or practice reading and as a reward for good behavior. "I thought being a therapy dog would be a good way for him to share his unconditional love," Valerie said. The love he gets back is evident in the halls of L-M schools. It seems that anyone who passes Scooter cant help but smile, call his name or reach down to pat his head. Studies have shown that therapy dogs promote healing, increase well being and improve the quality of life for those they serve, according to Therapy Dogs International. Aiden "A.J." Sears, 5, has a special bond with Scooter. When he saw the dog in the library Thursday he ran to Scooter, squealed his name, and gave him a big hug. Sears told the story of how he was upset one day, which sometimes happens in kindergarten, and Scooter was there at just the right time. "I was crying and I was walking down from the library. I was having a bad day," Sears said. "I pet him and it made me feel better." Another student who cant get enough of Scooter is second-grader Gabe Hayes. He reads aloud with the dog once a week. Gabe brings books about dogs and Scooter lies nearby providing company. "It's fun to read to him and he's really calm," Hayes said, adding that reading with Scooter has encouraged him to keep trying to become a better reader.