Webber Rheinhart, a therapy dog at Salem Elementary School, is retiring after eight years of service.
He started in March 2011 and is registered with Love on a Leash, which is “nonprofit dedicated to providing an avenue for volunteer pet therapy teams to engage in meaningful and productive animal assisted therapy.”
Webber is also R.E.A.D. certified, which means that he is a “Reading Education Assistance Dog,” sanctioned through Intermountain Therapy Animals.
Kathy Rheinhart, Webber’s handler and owner, who is also the school's library media assistant, learned about working with therapy dogs from a friend and was later introduced to therapy dog training programs.
Working in a library with elementary-aged children, it seemed, “a natural fit to pair struggling readers with Webber and let them feel good about themselves," said Rheinhart. "We found it improved literacy for those who read with Webber.”
Collaborating with the classroom teacher and a reading specialist, students were selected to be with Webber who were struggling, or reluctant readers and needed to practice reading fluency.
Webber’s work at Salem expanded to the “Bark for Books” Book Club for 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-graders, who wanted the opportunity to read books about dogs, together with Webber.
Webber owned his own blog, which was used for years to collaborate and interact with the book club members, as well as others in the community. Students would even post questions for a veterinarian and dog trainer and Webber would “talk” with his vet and dog trainer and provide the answers to their questions.
The book club also included community activities, such as donating to shelters. Students would read books about rescue dogs and want to help, so they would organize drives to collect donations for local animal shelters.
One year, the club was inspired to write their own “Webber book,” based on Webber’s already growing collection of books written by his owner, Kathy.
Kathy’s “Webber” books had been published and were circulated constantly, so much so that the library can’t keep them on the shelves! The Book Club collaborated with the school's art club to produce their own “Webber” book, written by the book club and illustrated by the art club, with original origami. This book won an award in a national contest.
An annual “Bark for Books” night was formed during literacy month, where families and students would rotate through stations reading with Webber and another registered therapy dog, listen and ask questions to a veterinarian, interact with a dog trainer and participate in a book swap with “paw-to-graphed” books.
Webber spent each Monday and Friday at Salem Elementary and will be missed greatly by everyone.
Webber Rheinhart and Kathy Rheinhart, underneath a sign thanking Webber for his service to the school.
Webber Rheinhart and Brooklyn Moody.