Jason Sellards and his therapy dog, Rein, pose for a photo with Orchard Primary teacher Sarah Savage and her first grade students where they've been reading with students for the last three years.
December 05, 2018TRI-CITY AREA — If there's such a thing as a "good" gauntlet, Almont's Jason Sellards and Maureanne Bennie know the feeling when they walk through the school doors with their therapy dog, Rein.
The couple and their four-legged star volunteer their time at both Almont's Orchard Primary and Imlay City's Weston Elementary schools in a first grade reading program. Without fail, the trio gets swarmed by admiring students and staff who just have to pet, hug and talk to Rein as the trio make their way to first grade classrooms where the rescued dog works as a Tail Waggin' Tutor Reading Therapy Dog.
Not all dogs could tolerate that mob of love but Rein's not like other dogs.
"There's this saying that therapy dogs are born, not made," Jason said.
Currently, Rein reads with 75 first graders in Almont and Imlay City weekly and interacts with double that number when she and her owners walk the halls.
Jason and Maureanne joke that they can't get anywhere fast with Rein in tow but they're okay with that fact.
"We try to make time for everyone," Maureanne said.
"We're both retired so we have no where else to go but home!"
This is the third school year Rein has worked with students at Orchard Primary and her first year at Weston. Additionally, she and her humans volunteer their time at the Ruth Hughes Memorial District Library for 'Reading with Rein' sessions.
"She adds a extra level of excitement to reading that wouldn't exist otherwise," Jason said.
"When she arrives at a classroom, the kids literally jump from their desks to run to the bookshelf and grab their books."
After reading with the dog, each student is rewarded with a piece of candy and a small prize.
On Valentine's Day, Jason and Maureanne hand out personalized cards from Rein to all of her reading buddies.
The couple said they are thrilled when they get feedback from teachers and parents after their students or children have spent time with Rein.
"One mom told us that her daughter rebelled against reading and refused to even open a book but then Rein gave her the motivation to try...she just needed that extra push," Jason said.
Kids can pet Rein while they read and sometimes she'll put her paw on their leg.
"I tell them 'she just wants to hold hands with you while you read,'" Jason said.
Rein visits at both Orchard Primary and Weston elementary schools where she listens to 75 first graders read every week.
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Those love-filled school visits are very different from her early days on the streets of Detroit.
Rein was found in a Detroit sewage plant with her 14 puppies in 2014 by animal control.
After all of her puppies were adopted, Rein entered the Pets for Vets program.
Jason was given Rein through the Pets for Vets organization. The rescued dog was intended to be an emotional support dog. Jason had dealt with depression and sometimes struggled to get out of the house. The first day he took Rein home, the pair went out for a walk in Westland, where he resided at the time, and people on the street asked to pet her.
"Then they started telling me their life story," Jason remembers.
"It quickly became apparent there was something special about this dog."
About seven months after she came into Jason's home, Rein earned her therapy dog certification and she is currently licensed through Therapy Dogs International and has also received the AKC Therapy Dog and Good Citizen certifications
Eventually Jason and Maureanne met and Jason and Rein moved to Almont.
"She is such a smart dog. She's always wanted to learn," Maureanne, who's taught Rein commands in sign language, said.
Rein is also intuitive to people's needs, often sensing when people are sick or in need of extra attention.
"I've worked with animals my whole life and I've never known a dog this loving and giving."
Currently the couple is training Rein's kitten, Dalai Rae, to become a therapy cat.
"Kids are so surprised that a dog and cat can be together," Maureanne said.
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In addition to reading with kids, Rein's many other duties keep the Almont family busy.
She represents Pets for Vets at conferences, visiting patients and staff at the Veterans Hospital in Ann Arbor and volunteering at Paula's House in Monroe. It's a transitional home for women and their children affected by addiction and abuse. Rein also supports and represents Project Second Chance, a organization that has juvenile offenders help train rescued dogs.
Once a month, the trio visits Maple Vista Senior Living in Imlay City for "Rein's Bingo." Jason calls bingo numbers while Maureanne and Rein roam the room, interacting with residents.
"They act like little kids again when Rein's around...it's so refreshing to see," Maureanne said.
Jason said they offer up Rein's visits for free.
"She is always available to meet the heart needs of people, whether it's a visit to a hospital or a personal visit to a family at home," Jason said.
In addition to the time commitments they've made, Jason and Maureanne also invest their own funds into making their volunteer experiences special. They provide all their own prizes and candy for the reading programs, purchase and make their own bingo game prizes—including baked goods—and solicit and deliver donations to Paula's House.
"We make a good team," Maureanne said.
"There aren't a lot of husband-wife teams in the therapy dog world but it would be a lot of work for just one person."
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Currently, Jason is in the process of writing a book about their beloved dog and he thinks he's settled on the perfect title, "From feral to fabulous."
He's using portions of his life story to tell hers. At about the same time Rein was roaming the streets of Detroit as a stray in 2013, Jason was homeless on the streets of Sacramento, California.
"Realizing that is really was spurred the idea for this book," he said.
Jason and Maureanne say they owe a special thank you to Laurie Carr from Pets For Vets and Cheryl Wassus from Project Second Chance for saving Rein and, in the process, "changing our lives. We will forever be thankful."
Maureanne said she's always wanted to work with animals and kids but never imagined her dream would come true in the way it has.
"This is what I was meant to do and its surpassed anything I was anticipating," she said.
Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she and her family reside in the Capac area where she enjoys gardening and reading.