A Pawsitively Fashionable Show Benefits Therapy Dogs of SB

Dogs Help Kids Who Struggle with Reading

A Pawsitively Fashionable
Show Benefits
Therapy Dogs of SB

Ritz Event Benefits
Therapy Dogs of Santa Barbara

By Gail Arnold | June 6, 2024

Boardmember and Volunteer Kim Lieberman, Founder and Director of Wellness Programs Karen Lee Stevens, and Executive Director Carey Bradshaw | Credit: Gail Arnold

On May 25 at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Therapy Dogs of Santa Barbara (TDSB) volunteer owners and canines strutted down the grassy runway sporting “pawsitively” fashionable apparel from local boutiques. Owners exuded high spirits and style while the dogs performed tricks. Development Director Jody Williams deftly played emcee, sharing with guests info about each team and their outfits while lively music played in the background. Held on the scenic Oval Lawn, the event raised funds for TDSB’s valuable programming with kids and other community members.

With a motto of “Happiness has four legs and a purple bandana,” TDSB’s 42 volunteer owner/canine teams participate in therapy dog visits, ARF! literacy visits, and Wag Well mindfulness classes. The therapy dog visits, which seek to reduce stress and uplift spirits, are held at nine locations serving seniors, Transition House, after-school programs, summer camps, college campuses, scout troop meetings, the airport, and more.

ARF! (Animals + Reading = Fun), which is designed to improve reading skills, pairs TDSB teams with kids in grades 2 and 3. It currently operates only at Aliso Elementary School in Carpinteria and at Carpinteria and Solvang libraries, but the hope is to ramp up operations, including going back to SBUSD schools, where TDSB was active through the 2022-23 school year.

The idea behind ARF!, according to TDSB founder Karen Stevens, is that a child who struggles with anxiety, low self-esteem, a learning disability, or a language barrier can overcome these issues by reading aloud to a specially trained dog. The program gives disadvantaged children the opportunity to experience the unconditional love dogs offer. For many of these students, Stevens shared, this may be the only one-on-one time they receive at school, and they love the experience. Students improve their reading and increase their self-confidence at the same time.

Volunteer and boardmember Kim Lieberman joined TDSB in 2013 after a 30-year bilingual teaching career working with 2nd and 3rd grade English learners and has done nearly 1,000 visits with her golden retrievers. Reading aloud to a dog, according to Lieberman, adds an element of joyfulness to a task that has been a struggle for many of these students. 

Away from the classroom and engaged with the dogs, Lieberman related, the kids’ anxiety about reading is lowered immediately. “They start to feel safe in taking risks and making mistakes because there is no judgment from the dogs.” Confidence builds, and, in just a few sessions, reading fluency improves. as well. Many kids share that they now actually like reading.

In addition to participating in TDSB’s main programming, Lieberman also does humane education lessons with pre-schoolers at The Oaks. Through storytelling, discussion, and demonstration, Lieberman related, “children learn empathy skills and the physical and emotional needs of animals, and discover they are much like them. . . . Many children in our community have not had positive experiences with dogs and may harbor fear and anxiety when encountering one, and these lessons with a sweet, friendly therapy dog can help change their perceptions.”

The Wag Well program, taught by Stevens, is a mindfulness program that seeks to give students tools to manage their emotions, bounce back from challenges, and improve their academic performance. Presently, this program is also focused at Aliso Elementary School, where all K-5 students will soon have participated in the four-week program.

After the four week class, Stevens returns for a refresher class, where she sees amazing progress. Kids continue the practices they learned and have shared the practices with their families, creating a bonus, ripple effect.

The nonprofit offers its programming for free, relying on donations and grants for its management. It welcomes new volunteer teams, which must pass an evaluation to participate. Optional group or private dog training sessions can be arranged. For more info about TDSB, go to https://therapydogssb.org

On Jun 8, TDSB is holding Walks & Wags fundraiser at Vincent Vineyards in Santa Ynez. For more info, go to  https://givebutter.com/junedogwalk.

Volunteers Cat Nisbet and Hannah Carroll | Gail Arnold
Volunteers Susan Williams and Diane Connors | Gail Arnold
Development Coordinator and Event Emcee Jody Williams with trainer and volunteer Andrea Bratt | Gail Arnold
Founder and Director of Wellness Programs Karen Lee Stevens on the runway | Gail Arnold
Volunteer Susan Williams with Gracie on the runway | Gail Arnold
Wag Well Instructor Cat Smith and Cali Cupcake on the runway | Gail Arnold

For the event, fashion partners were Dylan Star Boutique, Lovebird Boutique, J. McLaughlin, Sainte Marie, Ritz-Carlton Bacara Spa, Rowan Leigh Boutique, Parts Unknown, Cashy’s Playpen, L’Deux, and Hund N Kat. 

Read all of our 2024 Pets & Animals stories here.


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