Here’s a little positive post for you. A few weeks ago I had the fortune to meet a special guest at a charity reading event. It was Danny the Reading Dog. I had no idea how famous this animal was until his owner, Tony Nevett, showed me photographs of him with various celebrities including David Bowie. Tony is a quiet, unassuming friendly man with a passion … to help children develop a passion for reading.
So who is this dog and why is he so famous that he has even been to Downing Street, travels regularly to the States (First Class, I hear) and has been given a free pass to travel on buses and trains throughout the UK?
Danny is a blue and white Greyhound. He was a stray animal, rescued from wandering the streets of Cork, Ireland and propelled to celebrity status thanks to his owner. No longer homeless and unloved, Danny along with his owner, now travels from their home in Northamptonshire to primary schools around the UK, transforming the lives of many children through the Kennel Club “Bark & Read” program. He’s not just confined to the shores of the UK either. This is an animal with a wide-reaching appeal. While we were chatting a text came through from a school in Croatia requesting a visit from Danny. “I get them all the time,” he said with a wry grin on his face. “I get them from all over the world.”
Tony, who has a degree in animal assisted therapy, learned of the success of Reading Education Assistance Dogs® in the United States. Fascinated by it, he trained the first R.E.A.D. dog in Europe, a Greyhound named Scotts. Scotts was the face of R.E.A.D.’s 10th anniversary celebrations. Following Scotts’s death, Tony trained Batman and Danny, also both Greyhounds. He feels Greyhounds are a breed that is “particularly suitable because they have a single coat of hair and therefore are less likely to trigger allergies,” “However,” he adds, “Any dog can be trained as a R.E.A.D dog. They just need to be placid and good with children.”
Danny then, is a “listening dog” and Tony works tirelessly to bring the R.E.A.D. program to life in the UK. At a time when many councils are cutting back on library services, some are beginning to use dogs as an innovative way to help children get excited about reading. From what i saw, it is a brilliant idea.
Danny is very patient and listens to children who would otherwise not want to read to adults. He makes them more confident. They don’t worry that the dog will laugh at them if they struggle or stumble with sentences or words. Ultimately, they become more enthusiastic about reading. Many of Danny’s readers are special needs children, some of whom include disabled, ADHD, Down syndrome, and autistic children. His calm, well behaved, quiet nature is particularly suited for working with these youngsters.
Danny has received much recognition and many awards, including his own piece on the BBC children’s channel. He has been on Sky, BBC, ITV, Fox, and CBS News programs; appeared in dog magazines worldwide; and he has been honoured by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain. In October 2011, Danny won the The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Amazing Animal award for his work as a listening dog, helping children improve their reading skills.
There is much merchandise surrounding Danny and you can buy all manner of gifts. There are cartoons and books about Danny including Danny Goes to London and, Danny Strikes out in America. Yes, Danny travels to the States where he joins other dogs in IOWA who do the same thing as him. One thing became very clear in talking to his owner, Tony not only loves his dog but he is very proud of Danny and what he is achieving. (He gives all the credit to Danny.) In the whole time I spent with them, people constantly came up to Danny and patted him or had their photo taken with him. Danny remained completely unfazed by all the attention and stretched out comfortably, not barking or grumbling, while children and adults alike fussed over him. The only time he got excited was when someone brought him a sausage from the staff canteen.
So, he may have four legs but Danny has without doubt, touched many lives and is doing a fantastic job. What a huge help he is to children struggling with reading and hats off to him and of course to Tony. If you’d like to learn more about him, have him visit your school or event or learn more about the programme, click on the links below.