Students in Ms. Shauna Young's third grade class at Prichard Elementary got a special treat last week when Sophie, a therapy dog with Community Hospice, in Ashland, visited their class.

Young's class has been reading the book “Toby' Story: A Dog's Purpose Puppy Tale” about a therapy dog. In that book Toby, a beagle, doesn't get adopted when his siblings do because they are playful and energetic while Toby is calm and easy going. Toby, however, finds his role as a therapy dog, helping at a nursing home where he motivates patients to get outdoors and serves as a calming presence with his easy demeanor.

Young said she wanted to introduce the students to a real world example, and her sister, Stephanie Gifford, happened to have just such an example in the form of Sophie, the therapy dog at Community Hospice where she works.

“I'm a nurse with hospice,” Gifford explained. She was talking with her sister about the book Young was reading with her class, and Gifford commented, “Oh! That sounds like Sophie.”

Sophie isn't exactly the same as Toby, though. For one, she's a golden retriever. For another, the nine-month-old pup was raised and trained specifically to serve as a therapy dog. But her calm demeanor, even in the presence of a group of excited and rambunctious third graders, echoes that of the dog from the story.

Ironically, Young said, they almost didn't read about Toby at all. But just like Sophie, once they met him the fictional dog stole their heart.

“What I think is so ironic is we had a book fair and one of my students, Dawson, bought the book, and he brought it to me and said, 'Ms. Young, can we read this?'” she said.

She told him initially that she didn't know if they would have time, but she ended up reading the first chapter to the class, and after that they were all hooked.

“So, it wasn't a book I picked. It was student chosen, so I thought that was pretty unique,” she said.

She was telling her sister about the book when Gifford volunteered that it reminded her of Sophie and they discussed bringing the dog to class.

She said she liked that connection to the real world from the book the students picked.

“I think it makes the connection for the students to be able to understand the stories that they read, and realize that some stories are real, and they can really happen,” Young said. “Even though the story that we're reading isn't a true story. Someone made it up. But realistically it could happen.”

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