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Cindie Hudson with her book "Yellow Dog," along with her two golden retrievers Harlee, left, and Seger on Friday, July 16, 2021. Kelly Lafferty Gerber | Kokomo Tribune

There's a 72-hour period in a puppy's development that's ideal to see if they'd be ideal for service, rescue or therapy. Between their 28th and 31st days of life Harlee and Seger tested positively, and Cindie Hudson scooped them up. 

Children who read to Harlee, whether it be during the library's PAWS to Read program or during visits to area schools, improve remarkably, both in reading comprehension and speech skills. Hudson saw such progress from the animal-facilitated therapy that she wrote a children's book in hopes to increase literacy among children. 

The book, "Yellow Dog," is about Harlee and Seger's interactions on a 2019 vacation to Sanibel Island, Florida. The book was published in late June by Dorrance Publishing Company under RoseDog Books. 

Hudson said that she was watching how her dogs observed coconuts on a palm tree, children building sandcastles and the ocean coming and going from the shore and she started writing the story. 

She sat on it for about a year until she revealed she'd written it during a large family dinner. She didn't know what she wanted to do with the story, but her late father-in-law encouraged her. 

"It sticks with me," she said. "He said, 'Cin, all it takes is to sell one book in every town, that’s all you gotta do.'"

Because her father-in-law knew that Hudson didn't want to sell the books, she wanted to encourage children to read. 

According to The Literacy Project, 45 million Americans are functionally illiterate and unable to read above a fifth-grade level and 50% of adults are unable to read books at an 8th grade level.

The statistics were shocking and concerning to Hudson. And as children read books to Harlee, they improved. One children couldn't read more than two sentences without getting up and running around. But after six months of working with Harlee, she read three books straight and was reading one grade level ahead. 

"Harley listens," she said. "(If you're speaking), she would be looking at you when you speak. She truly listens, and she's very tuned into the kids who read to her. And she's not judging you if you read a word wrong."

Seger and Harlee have the same parents, but from different litters. The dogs have different strengths which complement each other, Hudson said.

Harlee, 9, is patient and calm. And she loves kids. 

"They love on her and use her as a pillow when they read to Harlee," she said. "100 kids on top of Harlee is probably not enough for Harlee."

Seger, 6, is confident and assertive, really bringing calm and peace to group situations, which is why he does therapy visits for hospital patients. 

"When Seger goes into a (hospital) room, I kind of step back and follow him," she said. "Seger kind of knows where to go. When he's in a situation, he can just intuit what he's supposed to do." 

About a decade ago, Hudson was working full time as a dental assistant when she decided she wanted to pursue having and volunteering with therapy dogs. Hudson brought Harlee home at 9 weeks old, and training for therapy began at 14 weeks old. 

The training and certification process is intense. It requires animals to navigate stressors, obstacles, textures, sounds and smells while providing service. 

"A lot of it has to do with temperament, how the dogs respond," she said. "I was in awe when I watched it for the first time."

Animal-facilitated therapy training isn't just on the dog, Hudson trained with the dogs as a team. 

"You and your dog are a team," she said. "If I couldn't make a hospital visit, my husband couldn't take him. So, my dog and I are certified. And there's a lot that goes into it, hyou don't just sign a piece of paper, there's a lot of training that goes into that dog."

Animal-facilitated therapy has shown to promote a healing environment and reduce certain psychological symptoms for patients with a range of diagnoses, including cancer, according to a 2018 article in the "Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing." 

In addition to the statistics backing the benefits of the therapy, Hudson said that she believes God puts her where she's supposed to go during therapy work. She even prays before taking Seger into a hospital room. 

Hudson said that one particularly emotional therapy visit included Seger comforting a family minutes after their loved one had passed away. Hudson said watching Seger steer through that difficult visit sticks with her to this day. 

"He knew where to go, he knew who to go to first," she said. "You could feel God's presence. I have goosebumps even talking about it now.  To see what therapy dogs do for patients and for patients' families, it's just amazing." 

Laura Arwood can be reached at 765-454-8580, laura.arwood@kokomotribune or on Twitter @LauraArwood.

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