Volunteers needed to grow Esperance Story Dogs program

Reading down pat: Katrina Dutton and Bellarina love visiting the Year 2 students at Esperance Primary School for weekly reading sessions and hope to encourage other volunteer duos to jump on board. Photo: Supplied.

Reading down pat: Katrina Dutton and Bellarina love visiting the Year 2 students at Esperance Primary School for weekly reading sessions and hope to encourage other volunteer duos to jump on board. Photo: Supplied.

A volunteer program assisting reluctant readers to build confidence with the help of some furry friends is hoping to expand in Esperance.

Story Dogs is a national literacy charity which sends volunteers and their dogs into the classroom to sit and read with students.

There are more than 490 volunteer dog teams across the country working alongside children who may have reading difficulties, anxiety or confidence issues.

Katrina Dutton and her dalmatian Bellarina are the only Story Dogs volunteers in Esperance and are hoping to encourage more duos to get involved.

Ms Dutton said she was passionate to grow the volunteer base so more families could experience the benefits of the program.

"It resonated a lot with me because my daughter has severe dyslexia and dysgraphia andanimal therapy was something we were doing for a while without knowing that it was a researched area and that this program was running," she said.

Ms Dutton has visited the Esperance Primary School twice a week since August and said every minute had been a joy.

"It is wonderful to watch the children grow in confidence, in ability and to watch them excitedly bound out of those classrooms to be with Bellarina," she said.

Esperance Primary School student Evelyn Govans reads with Bellarina. Photo: Katrina Dutton.

Esperance Primary School student Evelyn Govans reads with Bellarina. Photo: Katrina Dutton.

"She isn't judgmental, she doesn't care if they can read or if they stumble, fall or are nervous, she doesn't care if they make mistakes and they really respond to that.

"I've had parents come up and hug me and say they've had a child go from fighting them and not wanting to read, to now reading everyday which is just amazing."

Ms Dutton said dogs were assessed before joining the program and owners completed a few hours of training.

"It is very easy to be involved with and the benefits outweigh the little bit of time you put in," she said.

"My dog Bellarina gets an amazing amount of joy out of it as well, she absolutely loves going into school and seeing the kids."

Story Dogs Mandurah coordinator Amanda Milroy said she looked forward to visiting Esperance on February 25 to train more local volunteers.

"Everywhere there is a primary school there will be kids in need almost guaranteed. Kids always need literacy help," she said.

"It just takes someone like Katrina to be really keen and enthusiastic and in a few months she will have a program up and running in Esperance and a lot of primary school children will benefit from that."

Anyone interested in becoming a Story Dogs volunteer is encouraged to contact Ms Milroy on 0417993497 or amanda@storydogs.org.au.

There will be a limited intake for the February training.