Tim and Sam Toshack, with ‘story dog’ Mack.
Tim and Sam Toshack, with ‘story dog’ Mack. Picasa

Reading scheme’s gone to the dogs in New South Wales

STORY Dogs volunteers are not without ambition.

Sometime in the future, they hope to be in every Australian school.

The service began in Murwillumbah seven years ago, was launched in Lismore in early April and hopes to be set up at Byron and Ballina before too long.

Story Dogs co-ordinator Marilyn Cameron-Dow, of Pottsville, oversees an area with seven schools and 12 "teams" - dogs and their owners.

"Our goal is to help as many children as we can to enjoy reading and, long-term, to be in every school in the country," Marilyn said.

"Lions clubs sponsor a lot of our dogs.

"The dogs go into the schools. The children and dogs love it.

"We can have four or five dogs in a school.

"We target Year 2 and the teachers decide on the students who participate.

"Those four children (for each volunteer) come out for 20 minutes each and have fun with the dog.

"The children learn to read by the end of the year because it's such fun and they're reading to a non-judgmental dog.

"We don't teach, we just have such fun with the kids."

Dog owners commit to two hours each week.

Marilyn, a retired teacher, said the Story Dogs service was growing because of demand, and that created a need for more co-ordinators and volunteers.

"There's a half-hour test for the dog. It's very vigorous," she said.

"I've only had two dogs fail it.

A non- threatening dog gives the children confidence.

"You can tell straight away whether the dog is obedient, and then the humans have to be trained. They have a day's training."


As co-ordinator, Marilyn also fundraises, recruits volunteers and gives presentations to community groups like U3A.

"I've been in Story Dogs for four-and-a-half years," she said.

"It's been going since 2009 and yet we are national now, except for the ACT."


For more information about volunteering or donating, go to storydogs.org.au.

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