Golden retriever named Oakley helps Red Feather Lakes students learn to love reading

Monica Brandt and her husband David escaped to a rural lifestyle in the foothills of Northern Colorado nearly a year ago. They came from Thornton, outside of Denver. David worked for Microsoft and Monica was a financial adviser at Edward Jones.

When David retired, they gave up their home in Thornton and a summer home they’d owned in Crystal Lakes and settled in Glacier View Meadows. David began putting his computer skills to work in the area. Monica continued as a financial advisor, commuting to an office in Broomfield, but she had her eye on making a change.

Oakley, her young golden retriever, had a whole lot to do with the change she made. When she noticed that Oakley had an especially good disposition and was amenable to training, she found a trainer for him and enrolled him in a Canine Good Citizen program. When he had mastered the 10 requirements, he moved on to master 10 more to become a certified therapy dog. Oakley is also registered through Pet Partners, the largest pet therapy organization in the U.S.

“It’s a whole lot like training kids,” Monica said. She has two daughters, ages 25 and 33, both nurses. Although she could pass for a 20-something herself, Monica has two grandchildren, ages 5 and 2.

After six months of training, Oakley was ready to go out in the world and make himself useful. Monica was finding her way in a new community, happy to be in a rural setting not unlike the environment where she grew up. But still, it took a little time to feel at home in her new surroundings.

She made a connection with the second and third grade teacher at Red Feather School through her husband who had provided the teacher with some computer services. A few months ago, Monica and Oakley began showing up at school on Tuesday mornings to read to the second and third graders. In January, they began visiting younger children as well, in Kat Jayroe’s kindergarten/first grade class, on Thursday mornings.

The children, usually three or four at a time, gather on the floor in a carpeted corner of their classroom to spend 15 minutes with Monica and Oakley, listening to stories and cuddling up to Oakley who lies quietly, listening as intently as the children do. “Savannah was very hesitant around Oakley at first,” Jayroe said of one of her students. “She’s gone from being scared to being perfectly comfortable around him.”

The children are free to choose the stories they want to hear. They listen and pet Oakley at the same time, never taking their eyes off the book being read. The time goes too quickly. The last story must be left unfinished. It’s time for recess. But Monica will be back next week for a few more precious moments that just may inspire these 5- and 6-year-olds with a love of the written word.

Monica also does literacy presentations at the Red Feather Lakes Library and is available for one-on-one literacy tutoring. She and Oakley have spent time at the Safe House in Fort Collins. All her work is volunteer.

Monica has found her niche. She hasn’t ventured south to work in her Broomfield office since early December. “I haven’t officially quit yet,” she shares. “I plan to do that soon.”

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