Fundraiser Enables ‘Reading Dog’ to Start New Chapter

Bullis Charter School kindergarten teacher Kea Feldman’s goal is to help children read. She is compassionate, dedicated and occasionally likes to chase her own tail.

According to her Los Altos owner and kindergarten teacher Jane Feldman, Kea, a 10 ­year ­old shepherd mix “reading dog,” is specially trained to help with reading comprehension – she sits and listens patiently as students sound out words and grapple with story concepts.

“It’s a way to motivate students in a fun way without their being constricted or hindered by ability,” Feldman said. “She’s not going to judge or restrict them.”

Feldman said Kea’s presence also helps students apply fictional themes with reality.

“I might ask the kids, ‘What did Hansel and Gretel do to mark their path? They used breadcrumbs. Well, what if Kea were walking with them – should they still drop breadcrumbs?’ It gets kids to connect the story with real life,” Feldman said.

Kea sits attentively while children read to her, a quality attributed to the rigorous training she underwent six years ago.

 To ensure her best behavior in unpredictable classroom situations, Kea’s trainers would leave her alone in a room until she learned not to search for her owner and would make loud noises to numb gradually her reactions to pandemonium.

 However, a malignant mast cell removal surgery recently sidelined Kea and her education career while she spent six weeks in recovery, which proved physically and emotionally draining for Feldman and her dog.

 After veterinarians removed the tumor, they told Feldman Kea might need further radiation therapy to ensure her cancer would not return. Feldman, however, said she did not want to subject her dog to more stressful treatment. In the face of a 30 percent to 40 percent chance of the cancer recurring, she said no.

That initial surgery – necessary to save Kea’s life – was costly.

Thanks to an outpouring of local support during a two­ week fundraiser at Pet’s Delight in downtown Los Altos last month, Feldman recouped 15 percent of the total cost.

Feldman said she is grateful for the support of Tatiana and Denis Boulankine, owners of Pet’s Delight.

 “They provided the venue and sold items to donate some of the proceeds for (the surgery),” Feldman said.

Insurance could have covered the operation, but Feldman did not purchase it when Kea was young.

Now with Kea healthy at least for a while, Feldman said her dog “plans to spend the next couple of years as a reading dog, enjoying her life.”