A Rescued Older Dog Finds a New Role Helping Kids Read
Lola, an eight-year-old Boxer-mix at the Humane Society of Cedar Creek Lake (HSCCL) in Tool, Texas, had waited 55 days for a new home and found the shelter environment increasingly stressful.
“She came to us on December 6, 2022, from a local animal control facility,” says Monika Allen, HSCCL’s Interim Director, who also serves on the non-profit’s Board of Directors.
Christmas passed, then New Year’s, then the long month of January. Monika selected Lola for the regular ASPCA Animal Relocation team transport leaving Texas to give shelter animals a better chance at adoption.
“The average lifespan of a Boxer is eight to ten years, and it’s difficult to find homes for senior pets in our rural county,” Monika says.
On the afternoon of February 1, an ASPCA Animal Relocation vehicle filled with nearly two dozen dogs arrived at the Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS), an open-admission shelter in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
“The dogs needed a second chance, and thanks to our partnership with the ASPCA and the Humane Society of Cedar Creek Lake, they were getting just that—a new beginning,” says Jessica Pinkos, Director of Special Projects for HAWS.
Jessica, a Boxer lover who coordinates transport and foster programs for HAWS, noticed Lola right away. Since Lola needed a dental exam and a biopsy for a mass on a toe (which was later found to be benign), Jessica fostered her while she underwent those procedures.
“She fit right in with the rest of my pets,” Jessica said. “Before you knew it, she had a new name—Gertie.” Jessica adopted Lola (Gertie) soon afterward.
But this happy story does not end there.
Gertie Gets a Job
A big part of HAWS's mission is building a more empathetic, compassionate community and strengthening the human/animal bond through education and adoption.
In July 2021, HAWS developed Hannah’s Haven, a reading program for kids in memory of Hannah, a former HAWS dog who found joy working with children in schools, libraries and community events.
“Education is the best way for us to reach young people,” says Heather Thomack, HAWS’ Director of Education. “We want to educate our youth, so they become compassionate adults. We start by building an appreciation for animals. That appreciation becomes an understanding which hopefully leads to advocacy. We also encourage them to think about animal- and science-based careers where they can continue to advocate for animals as adults. We teach values of empathy, kindness and compassion for all living things.”
Gertie joined the Hannah’s Haven program after Jessica suggested she might be a good fit.
“We used Gertie in some after-school socialization sessions for kids, as well as during tours and other shelter events,” says Heather. “She loved being the center of attention.”
“Gertie loves people and children and takes her work very seriously,” Jessica says. “Now it’s her turn to join the other special dogs who carry on the work that Hannah started: visiting schools and listening as students find the courage and enjoyment of reading to a furry friend.”
“We love hearing the special stories and knowing when the stars align for one of our transport pups,” says Karen S. Walsh, ASPCA Senior Director, Animal Relocation.
“In addition to getting a second chance in a new community, she is helping teach humane values to children. That’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
In The Classroom
Gertie and a handler from HAWS’ Humane Education team visit Hadfield Elementary School every Tuesday during the school year, where third graders spend a half hour reading one-on-one to the silver-faced pup in the school library.
“It feels good reading to her,” says Jackson. “She makes me feel calm.”
“Gertie brings such a sense of calm to our readers,” says Nicole Holland, the school’s librarian. “She provides our readers a warm and cozy environment for reading out loud.”
“We like having the same dog come regularly because students build a bond and trust with that animal,” says Heather, a former grade schoolteacher who later managed school programs for the Zoological Society of Milwaukee.
“The students love Gertie’s energy,” Heather adds. “She loves to be petted and gently seeks attention and affection, and the kids like that. She also does well with the readers, settling down right away. When she lies down, the students relax, too.”
Heather says that Hannah’s Haven benefits both the dogs and the students.
“The presence of a calm, attentive dog improves their concentration more than friends or adults can,” she says. “For the dogs, the sessions offer socialization, interaction and one-on-one time in a calm setting.”
“Sometimes we spend more time getting the kids used to the dog than we do reading, but that’s OK; we want the children to be comfortable with the animals,” Heather adds. “Some come from backgrounds where fear may be associated with an animal, but here they’ll often move from their far-away seats to the floor—to sit next to the dog.”
“After Gertie’s first day, I was flooded with permission slips from parents,” says Laura Zahn, a third-grade teacher. “We are so grateful to have this program.”
‘A Lot of Gertie Stories Out There’
HAWS receives animal transports two to three times per month from the ASPCA and other animal welfare organizations and has been working with the ASPCA’s Relocation team for two years. During that time, HAWS’ Humane Education program has “exploded,” according to Heather. They now offer programs for kids of all ages.
Even Gertie’s age has advantages. “With older animals like Gertie, you know what you’re getting, and sometimes someone has already done all the hard work for you,” says Jessica. “We want the public to know that shelters are full of wonderful dogs like Gertie. I’m sure there are a lot of stories like Gertie’s out there that have yet to be told.”