"Dogs love company. They place it first in their short list of needs."
~J. R. Ackerley

All-Around READing Dogs
Montana ~ "Sonny"  

Smooth Collie listening to child read a story.

Sonny gets a pat on the head
while listening to a good story.

Sonny has listened to readers in several schools and libraries, and all the sessions have been special; however, one in particular stands out for Carla. At the end of a busy library session, the last reader was a boy who had just finished third grade. After meeting and talking to him, and before he began reading, it was obvious that he had a thick stutter.  However, when he began reading his book, he had very clear enunciation and great reading skills, without stuttering.  His mother later explained that his third-grade teacher had told her to keep him reading out loud over the summer and his stuttering would go away. Carla says it was truly amazing to listen to him read, and that Sonny loved him and was very attentive.

I've got my faves here,
ready for reading time!

Another experience, while not actually involving reading, shows what R.E.A.D. teams may encounter while working. While setting up to begin a R.E.A.D. session at a large urban library, a developmentally delayed girl saw Sonny move from a down to a stand.  Although signs were posted on the Library entrance, she apparently was unaware that there was a dog present.  She began screaming (quite loudly) that there was a “dog in the library!”  Carla calmly reassured the girl that Sonny was with her, had a leash on, and would not hurt her.  She came back twice more, each time louder than the next.  Her caregivers came back with her the last time and explained that she had been bitten in the face by a dog almost a year previously and was very frightened by them.  They spent almost 30 minutes talking to her about Sonny, that he was a “safe” dog.  She eventually came over and petted him, which was a huge step for her. Her caregivers were so very appreciative of the time spent with her.  Carla was proud of Sonny because throughout the whole encounter he was rock solid. He never moved from his stand, except to wag his tail.  He knew and understood that this girl was scared, and he did his very best to make her feel comfortable.  When she began petting him, she was very rough and he didn’t flinch or move.  Her caregivers and Carla showed her how to pet nicely and she practiced for several minutes.  Although this girl didn’t read to Sonny, she left feeling very good about herself, and Carla felt very good about Sonny’s ability to adapt to the situation.

Our beloved Sonny crossed over the Rainbow Bridge on March 19, 2012, at the age of 10-1/2. In addition to being a R.E.A.D. partner, Sonny was an exceptional therapy dog and was valued in crisis response and traumatic situations.


Books about Collies include:
Gina Bina Ballerina, by Cathy Howard
Lad, A Dog: Best Dog in the World, retold by Margo Lundell
Molly Collie, by Stewart Cowley.


Sonny, born in October 2001, is a Blue Merle Smooth Collie.  Many people do not realize there is both a rough and a smooth variety of the breed. Like the Rough, a Smooth Collie has a dense undercoat but the outer guard hairs are only one to two inches long, the longer being mainly in the ruff around the dog’s neck and on the back legs. Sonny lives in Montana with his 14-year-old mother, Belle, and four adopted cats: Mabel, Maude, Missy, and Mondo.  His Boxer neighbor girls are Tess and Bonnie. Typical of Collies, he is sociable, eager to please, and highly intelligent. He has a deep affection for his mother and all his animal and human friends.

Sonny and his owner, Carla, became a R.E.A.D.® team in 2004 and began working with two other teams in February 2005. The dogs were a huge hit, and they won an award from a local television station (sponsored by First Interstate Bank) for $250, which was used to buy new books for the school library.  The librarian researched and bought books about dogs.  Two other local nonprofit organizations have donated money to help Sonny and Carla buy books for their book bag.

Sonny looks like he's smiling at the story.

Sonny and Carla have also been a registered Delta Society Pet Partners team since 2004.  Additionally, since 2008 they have been a certified HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response Team and a Hospice Team for the local rural hospice.  They volunteer at both hospitals in Billings, St. Vincent Healthcare and Billings Clinic, as well as visit the local hospital intermediate care facility. Other organizations they belong to include the Collie Club of America (CCA), the American Working Collie Association (AWCA), and the local Yellowstone Collie Club.

Sonny was featured in the Spring 2005 edition of Collie Connection, AWCA’s quarterly newsletter. The article was entitled “Reading With Sonny,” and Carla says it is a dream come true—combining three of her favorite things: Collies, children, and reading.

Children love it when they think
Sonny is reading along with them.

In April 2010 Sonny and Carla began a R.E.A.D. session with one second-grade and four first-grade students in small K-12 rural school. She says they were warmly welcomed by what seemed like the entire student body, and one older child, who knew Sonny from when she was in third grade in another school system, screamed his name and immediately ran over to hug him. Carla says that from his body language it looked like he remembered her, and it was very nice to see she remembered her time reading with him. These are the youngest children Sonny has worked with, and Carla is making a book about Sonny especially to use with them.

Sonny became a HOPE AACR (Animal Assisted Crisis Response) dog in 2008. Click here to see another photo of him and to read their tribute upon his passing.