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Therapy dog lends an ear

Southgate third-grader Gavyn Skattebo reads as Penny, a golden retriever mix belonging to Jan Haycraft, listens Friday morning. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Southgate third-grader Gavyn Skattebo reads as Penny, a golden retriever mix belonging to Jan Haycraft, listens Friday morning. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Sometimes you just need a friendly ear to make things easier. For Southgate Elementary students, four legs and a tail isn’t so bad either.

Once a month, Jan Haycraft and her golden retriever mix Penny come into the school to provide those elements for the students, giving them a nonjudgmental platform to help with their reading skills.

Haycraft and Penny, of Owatonna, have been doing this for five years and it started with going into nursing homes.

“Mainly to cheer them up,” Haycraft said.

Penny, a therapy dog belonging to Jan Haycraft from Owatonna, watches Zachariah Rooney, a Southgate Elementary third-grader, read Friday morning. Penny and Jan make one trip a month to the school, to help listen to the students read. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Penny, a therapy dog belonging to Jan Haycraft from Owatonna, watches Zachariah Rooney, a Southgate Elementary third-grader, read Friday morning. Penny and Jan make one trip a month to the school, to help listen to the students read. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Soon after the pair started going to schools.

“The kids read to her,” Haycraft said. “The nice things about dogs is they are not judgmental. Their job is to listen.”

It’s more than just a safe environment to read, it’s also a chance for students to unwind with a friendly soul.

“At times when students are having a bad day, they can come in and pet Penny,” Haycraft said. “They can calm down and go back to work on their subjects.”

For third-grade teacher Jayme Lamers the effect Penny has is noticeable.

“She gives them a chance to practice one of the books they are reading,” Lamers said. “Reading to Penny makes them feel a little more comfortable.”

Lamers has said that she sees the impact Penny is having with her students.

“I see improvement in their comfort level with their reading out loud which are good skills to practice,” she said. “Their concentration levels are higher.”

But for others like the third-grader Gavyn Skattebo, it’s more simple than that.

“Penny’s a great dog,” he said.