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Mansfield Magazine

Web Extra: For A Good Paws

Jul 20, 2015 03:40AM ● By Kevin

Photo courtesy of Steve Burn.

Fifty-three-year-old Steve Burn and his pet therapy dog partner, Max, spend many hours each week visiting nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, elementary schools and other places where people can benefit from spending time with Max. Pet therapy dogs can help people  experience all kinds of physical, psychological and spiritual benefits simply from spending time with these pets.

Here’s more of our conversation with Burn that was not included in the previous issue of Mansfield Magazine.

Tell us more about the R.E.A.D. program that you and Max have been involved with? 

The mission statement of the Intermountain Therapy Animals organization (ITA) is for the R.E.A.D. program to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as literacy mentors.The Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program improves children's reading and communication skills by employing a powerful method: reading to an animal. But not just any animal. R.E.A.D. companions are registered therapy animals (e.g. Pet Partners)  who volunteer with their owner/handlers as a team, going to schools, libraries and many other settings as reading companions for children. R.E.A.D. is the first and foremost program that utilizes therapy animals to help kids improve their reading and communication skills and also teaches them to love books and reading. It's been growing around the world since November of 1999 when  ITA launched it in Salt Lake City. More than 3,500 therapy teams have trained and registered with the program with thousands of registered R.E.A.D. teams work throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and the world. 

How did you get involved with R.E.A.D.? 

A few of our Paws With Partners group dog handler teams have been doing R.E.A.D. Programs at various schools in the area for a while now. Namely at Anna Mae Daulton Elementary, Gideon Elementary and Willie Brown Elementary. We did a similar R.E.A.D. Program, in the summer, a few years ago at the Mansfield Public Library. Max enjoyed this very much and it became one of his favorite activities. When the opportunity presented itself for additional dogs to do the program at Anna Mae Daulton Elementary this school year, with Mrs. Lynn Kostel the Library Information Technology Educator, we jumped at the chance. We’ve finished the program for the 2014/2015 school year and it was a great experience for both Max and I. We are certainly excited for the next school year to begin! 

What kinds of skills/abilities does a dog need to be involved in pet therapy work? 

Here are the pre-requisites  for  any  animal:

• Animals may not be fed a raw protein diet.
• Animals must be reliably potty trained.
• Animals must be on a leash at all times.
• Animals should be healthy in order to evaluate or visit.  Animals with a condition that is being controlled with a prescribed medication are welcome to register and participate. However, animals receiving antibiotic, antifungal or immunosuppressive medications, such as steroids or chemotherapy, may not register with Pet Partners until that course of treatment is completed.
• Animals should have good basic obedience. For dogs this includes a reliable "sit," "down," "stay," "come," "leave it" and walking on a loose leash. For other species, an equivalent evaluation is performed.

• Animals should have no history of aggression, including lunging, growling, biting, kicking or seriously injuring either people or other companion animals. 

What kinds of challenges and obstacles have you encountered doing this work? 

I always get a chuckle when people meet Max for the first time as he is a big 100lb black dog. Frequently people will be a little hesitant to approach him even as he wags his tail and has that sweet look on his face. So children meeting him, who are half his size and weight, take some time to get the confidence and courage to pet him. This doesn’t take long to overcome as Max is so gentle and caring with the children and they quickly conquer any fear. Helping children who are struggling to read is a joy, and how they look forward to reading to Max is awesome. When Max moves or lifts his head, as if he is intently listening, the kids get so excited it’s so cool. One very sad thing happened to Max almost two years ago now. In July 2013, Max destroyed his back right knee. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), interior cruciate ligament (ICL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) we aren’t sure how he did it but a combination of playing with his friends and chasing/killing rodents I’m sure contributed to the injury. The surgery resulted in Max receiving one of the very few artificial back right knees on a dog. He was out of commission for over three months and when I delivered the news to all the facilities he visits they all were so concerned for him. He received get well cards, phone calls and emails constantly asking for updates on his recovery and, of course, treats. He is back to full health and all his therapy visits, plus new ones, since the injury. Apart from a little soreness, limping and maybe arthritis once in a while you won’t notice the knee unless I point it out. He gets lots of attention from people when I tell them this story which always ends up with the words “…Oh, can I give him a treat…”. Max has had a fantastic 5-year career as a registered therapy dog and his registration is valid until March 2017. Hopefully he can continue his special work for many years to come. 

What’s a typical day or week like for you and Max? 

Depending upon the time of year, specifically when schools are in session, Max frequently has busy weeks. Meaning he can have as many as 4 to 5 visits in one week. This level of activity has helped Max earn the AKC Therapy Dog Award – Distinguished title which is given to animals who have made at least 400 visits. To date, Max has made over 500 visits with over 850 hours of volunteer time and counting. 

What do you find most interesting or rewarding about this kind of work? 

We enjoy doing this because we both like seeing how retirees, assisted living patrons, elementary school children, university students and others light up when Max enters the facilities. Our visits provide an opportunity for everyone to engage with Max firsthand and we are able to witness the magic that happens. It provides joy to all involved in our encounters. 

What’s next? 

Paws With Partners tries to have at least one “City-Wide Meeting” a year to help anyone who is thinking about animal-assisted therapy get the information they need. I believe our next meeting will be in the fall so all those interested should watch for the announcement via magazines and social media. As for projects, therapy programs are now in place at a number of airports around the county and I have been working on getting Paws With Partners into DFW Airport for three years now. Fingers crossed we can get this project up and running soon. So that project is ongoing while we are waiting for the second tower at Mansfield Methodist Hospital in Mansfield to be completed, which I’m told will be in November, so we can start a Pet Therapy Program there. Of course, there is the continued recruitment of new Pet Partner teams, to grow our Paws With Partners group and to help service our clients.  More and more visits…more and more treats…more and more joy and love! 

Max - Animal Assisted Therapy Facilities


Contact Person


Phone #


Brookdale Living - Mansfield, TX

Ms. Catherine LeBreton

Sales & Marketing Manager

(817) 477-0600

UTA - Arlington, TX

Mrs. Jody Bailey

Director of Grants & Research

(817) 272-3000

Brooksdale Living - Lake Arlington, TX

Mrs. Gaynella Flaniken

Resident Program Manager

(817) 457-9710

Isle At Watercrest - Mansfield, TX

Community Life Director

(817) 453-3900

The Stayton - Fort Worth, TX

Human Resources & Accounting Coordinator

(817) 632-3600

THR - HEB - Bedford, TX

Mrs. Nateasie Kendrick

Manager of Volunteer Services

(817) 848-4853

Paws For Reflection Ranch - Midlothian, TX

Mrs. Melode Seremet

President & Executive Director

(972) 775-8966

Walnut Creek Nursing Home - Mansfield, TX

Ms. Brooke Witt

Executive Director

(817) 473-3018

Alliance For Children - Arlington, TX

Mrs. Vanessa Martinez

LPC - Therapist

(817) 795-9992

R.E.A.D. (Anna Mae Doulton) - Mansfield, TX

Mrs. Lynn Kostel

Library Information Technology Educator

(817) 299-6652



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