Longtime Niceville Reading Dog Retires

Boomer, a Niceville library therapy dog that helped young readers with their confidence, retires.

The old dog lays quietly but attentively at the foot of a woman with a book. 

The woman, Jeri McClung, reads to a little girl from a book. She turns the pages, and both listen intently to Jeri as she goes over the words on the page. 

The little girl pipes up to ask a question – Jeri answers calmly as the little girl pets the old dog, Boomer, as she listens to more. 

Boomer, an Australian labradoodle miniature, and Jeri have been reading to little kids and having children read with them to improve their literacy skills for a decade and a half. 

And after 15 years, it’s time for the 17-year-old (that’s 119 in dog years!) to hand over his collar and retire. 

He’s endured a lot to be here. Glaucoma took one of his eyes, and he has other issues that old dogs have, but he calmly listened to children read, along with his human Jeri, at the Niceville Public Library. 

“I realized after talking to the vet that that’s something to share with kids [who have] disabilities: they can do anything. Boomer can do anything. He can get back to work,” McClung added, “he sure is a resilient puppy dog.”

What do therapy dogs do?

The program Jeri and Bommer work with is Therapy Patient Connections, an affiliate of the Intermountain Therapy Animals of Utah, have helped thousands of children gain confidence in their reading skills by providing a safe ear to listen to.

In addition to helping children gain confidence in their reading abilities, therapy dogs help people in challenging mental, physical and emotional states through their presence and interaction. 

RELATED: Man’s Best Friend, Grandparents Teach Reading Skills to Plew Elementary Students.

“I remember one particular parent said at the end of the year, her daughter was like whispering when she would read,” McClung said, “I would say ‘[Boomer’s] getting older, he’s a little hard of hearing, you got to speak a little louder.’ She was more confident and speaking louder. And she said that made all the difference in the world. And she wouldn’t get that in the classroom or at home.”

Boomer and Jeri also visit assisted living facilities in the area, hospitals and juvenile detention facilities as well. McClung says those visits to the jail are some of the most rewarding experiences of her life. 

“They need a lot of love, and they’re angry, they’ve had bad stuff happen. And then they just kind of melt when they’re around a dog that shows them love. And he was much more active than that was several years ago, and I would take a ball and let him play and was fun. But he’s been a good dog.”

Librarians who have supported the program at the children’s section of the library, like Sara, agree. 

“Well, it’s important to us because we want all of our readers to feel comfortable here in youth services.” the librarian said, “And some children just are not comfortable with how they read or reading out loud in classrooms. And so if you have someone like Boomer our reading, education assistant dog come in, then they build that confidence to where they feel like better readers. And we think that’s really important in moving forward in school.”

Becoming a therapy dog: What’s next for Boomer and his replacement?

When Jeri first got Boomer, a vet check-up led her to look for places for the pair to serve the community. 

“I got him when he was a puppy,” McClung remembers, “our veterinarian got to know him and said, ‘He sure has a lot of love to give, you should let him go into being a pet therapy dog.’ Well, I didn’t know anything about it. And the veterinarian had some clients that volunteered with their dogs to do pet therapy work. And I talked to themand I said, ‘That sounds kind of cool.’ So Boomer and I went through the training and the certification and have been doing it for 15 years.”

And after 15 years, his time as a therapy dog has ended – with thanks in the form of a treat box, belly rubs, and a lot of time sleeping outside in the sunshine. 

Another dog of Jeri’s, four-year-old Nash, was certified as a therapy dog this year and will take the lead where Boomer left off. 

Still, Boomer will be missed

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