Forty-eight local canines are no longer just loyal pets—they’re teachers’ assistants, too.
Karma Dogs, a local nonprofit, helps rescue dogs become trained therapy animals in children’s literacy, life skills, and humane education programs throughout the region, everywhere from Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson to the Baltimore County Public Library in Pikesville.
At various venues, the nonprofit hosts H.E.A.R.T.S. (Help Encourage All Readers To Succeed), sessions in which dogs provide moral support to children with reading difficulties. The nonprofit’s president, Kelly Gould, says dogs are the best audience because they “just give positive feedback.”
Karma Dogs started after Gould and her husband, Andrew, adopted two dogs—Dirk, a hound-chow mix rescued from Hurricane Katrina, and Ernie, a blind puppy. Because of his disability, Ernie needed extra help navigating the world, and Dirk stepped in.
Watching the dogs together made the Goulds wonder if that same helpful spirit could be applied with humans. So in the summer of 2006, they co-founded Karma Dogs with Bridget Strama, a special education teacher and Kelly’s childhood friend. All dogs enrolled in the program must pass obedience and temperament tests.
Though the bar is high to join, the payoff is worth it, says Kelly. “We’re teaching kids that dogs can help them, that dogs can be their friends.”