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Hilltop school reading therapy dog enjoys 'golden' years

Retires after helping kids read

Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Kyle Grillot –
Daisy, the Hilltop Elementary School reading therapy dog, retired in May at age 13. Maureen Adams-Durkin, the learning disabilities teacher at Hilltop Elementary School and Daisy's owner, brings the therapy dog to school once a month for her "Reading to Dogs" program to improve her students reading skills. In preparation for Daisy's retirement, Adams-Durkin now has the next reading therapy dog, Phonics.

McHENRY – Daisy, the reading therapy dog for Hilltop Elementary School, has helped more than 175 students in her eight years of service.

Now 13 years old and lying on her owner’s kitchen floor, she is in absolutely no rush to go anywhere.

Maureen Adams-Durkin, Daisy’s owner and Hilltop’s learning disabilities teacher, knew that Daisy couldn’t be the reading dog forever and felt it was time for Daisy to enjoy her retirement.

Hilltop’s last day of school was May 21. To celebrate Daisy’s retirement, the learning disability class had a party.

Learning disabilities assistant Barb Szamlewski had no doubt about Daisy’s success when the idea of bringing in Daisy originally was discussed.

“I thought it was a brilliant idea because, working with specialized kids, you have to find a way to get through to them,” Szamlewski said. “Sometimes it was Daisy who could get through to them to open that door for us.”

Daisy’s visits were treated as an incentive for the students to complete their regular work first.

“The kids would get so excited when we would say, ‘We’re going to have Daisy Day next week,’ ” Szamlewski said. “It was phenomenal. One hundred percent, Daisy has done her job.”

At the end of each year, Adams-Durkin would take a picture of each of her students with Daisy. Some students, even those who have recently graduated high school, have come to her and said they still have their pictures.

Not only has Daisy helped Adams-Durkin’s students become more confident reading out loud, but she also has helped some become more at ease with dogs in general.

Daisy was the only therapy dog in the school, so every student recognized her whenever Daisy would walk through the cafeteria during lunchtime.

Sometimes, Brian Durkin, Adams-Durkin’s husband, would come to Hilltop to take Daisy home and would see how well-known Daisy was at school.

“There was a bunch of students in the hallway once, and one little boy poked out of line and went, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s that dog that knows how to read!’ ” Durkin said with a laugh. “Even students who weren’t in special ed knew Daisy. Every teacher in the school would stop to say hi to Daisy – they loved having her there.”

Adams-Durkin knew the day would come when she would have to get a new reading dog. After tossing name ideas back and forth with Szamlewski during the school day, the name Phonics felt right for the golden retriever puppy.

Phonics’ first day will be after Aug. 13. While Phonics and Daisy have different temperaments – Phonics is a typical puppy and Daisy has always been calm – Adams-Durkin is confident Phonics will do just as good of a job as Daisy did. Still, Szamlewski said it won’t be the same without Daisy.

“It was a bittersweet day,” Szamlewski said about Daisy’s retirement party on the last day of school. “We knew. As she was walking down the hall and her legs were starting to give out, I thought, ‘Daisy, honey, you did your job. It’s time for you to go home and rest now.’ She brought a lot into Hilltop and she will be missed.”

Did you know?

• Daisy was the youngest dog in the litter.

• Daisy’s mother was also a therapy dog.

• Daisy was 5 years old when she became a certified therapy dog. Phonics was 2 when she became certified.

Did you know?

• Daisy was the youngest dog in the litter.

• Daisy’s mother was also a therapy dog.

• Daisy was 5 years old when she became a certified therapy dog. Phonics was 2 when she became certified.

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