Skyes Terriers Add a New Twist to Reading Across America

Skye Terriers Add a New Twist to Read Across America


By Michael J. Pesare and Maida Connor


We have owned Skye Terriers for nearly 30 years. We have been breeders of this wonderful breed for 20 years. As owners and breeders of one of the oldest, endangered purebred breeds, we are keenly aware of the challenges that we face. Our rare Skye Terriers are caught in a terrible trap. While the animal rights movement infused the popular culture with their “adopt not shop” point of view, they fail to recognize that a number of our responsibly bred heritage breeds, with a long and proud history, are now teetering on the brink of extinction. It has been noted that the breeding population of a number of these old heritage breeds is not much larger than the Giant Pandas. Can they survive for future generations of dog lovers?


Against this backdrop, we make every effort possible to put our Skye Terriers in the public eye. We enthusiastically participate in Scottish Games and the annual AKC Meet the Breeds event in New York City so that people can meet this rare, wonderful breed.


For over a decade we have participated in the Read Across America event. While not designed as a “dog event”, my professional connection to schools has enabled us to add a new twist to this highly publicized reading celebration, bringing the dogs and the book.


In March, we will be participating in our 13th consecutive Read Across America Celebration with our Skye Terriers. This program encourages every child in every community to celebrate reading on March 2, the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss, and to keep reading throughout the year.


By incorporating the Skyes, we have an opportunity to increase awareness for the breed and also to present purebred dog breeders in a positive light, while reading Greyfrairs Bobby, a book about the most famous Skye Terrier.


We typically bring 4 to 6 of our Skyes ranging in age – younger pups 4-5 months old to older dogs, each of whom love sitting among and being petted by children in grades kindergarten through second.


As part of my brief introduction, I explain our efforts to preserve and protect this old and rare breed of dog. I also describe our involvement with Skyes that started 30 years ago when Maida and I discovered the breed from the book entitled Greyfriars Bobby. Later, we went to the local public library and, as fate would have it, the library had a copy of the best book on Skye Terriers, The Complete Skye Terrier by Dr. E.S. Montgomery. These two books solidified our interest in the breed, and led us to meet a Skye Terrier breeder.


We have been reading the children’s version of Greyfriars Bobby by Richard Brassey.


Among our fondest memories, a couple of years ago, we had a wonderful visit to an inner city Catholic school in York, Pennsylvania. As we were leaving one of the students said, “This was the best day ever. I will never forget this day.” Then she enthusiastically said that she was going to try to draw the Skyes because she loved art.


In all of our visits, our focus is on the reading experience. But, we also offer some information on the breed on a postcard that includes a listing of Skye Terrier books for children. The card includes the fact that the Skye is an endangered breed. While we don’t go into detail about our breeding of Skyes, we do say that we breed them carefully. We hope that the children will have a chance to form an opinion of breeders who are breeding responsibly for the betterment of the breed.


If you think you might like to participate in Read Across America, here are a few tips from our experiences.


It almost goes without saying that the dogs have to be well socialized. This is not a trivial statement – it is vitally important that the visiting dogs are heavily socialized. They have to have exposure to children from a young age. Our visits to a local outdoor shopping mall helped to prepare our dogs for the school visits, as they meet children of all ages who are quiet, noisy, running and seated. The school visit has to be something reasonably close to what they have experienced all along.


But, as well socialized as our dogs are, we leave nothing to chance. We are very careful to guide the interactions with the kids especially when they are meeting the group for the first time. We ask the children to form a large circle or sit back a few feet and we bring the Skyes to them on lead. We want a very positive event for our dogs and the kids. This is key for even the most rock solid tempered Skye but even more so for the ones that initially are a bit unsure. You will notice in a number of photos that I am right there guiding the interactions. As the dogs become more comfortable with the setting, we can then step back but we are always closely monitoring the students and the Skyes. Our Skyes occasionally even hop into the childrens’ laps and accept hugs. The entire experience is nothing close to traumatic for the dogs… as long as they have the training background.


In essence, this is not the time to take a chance. Your dogs have to be reliable and even tempered to even consider this activity. If you have doubts, it may be best to try activities that are not quite as intensive as Read Across America and see how they do. For example, take your dog to an outdoor shopping area and let people meet your dog. Watch how they interact with the younger folks. It is always important to bring small treats with you and ask visitors to give a treat to your dog. Be sure to remind them to let the dog sniff their hands. Also, it is always helpful if you can pair an older, confident dog with a younger pup in order to model good behavior and provide a loving nudge to meet new people.


These high-profile public education events are an important opportunity to make a positive first impression. As such, our dogs are freshly bathed and groomed before each visit – most often the morning of the visit. Their teeth are cleaned and their nails are cut. Also, we make sure they have plenty of time to exercise outside before going indoors. It would not be good to have one of them have an accident in any school!


Every year has been a bit different – different students, different teachers. The common element is the children’s interest in the dogs and the Greyfriars Bobby story. We always love the many smiles and giggles that are a part of our visits.


We donate a copy of the book we read to each school’s library and we gave the children color postcards with information about the Skye Terrier and a bibliography of a few of the more well-known books for children on the Skye to encourage them to read and learn about the breed.


Read Across America is just one way in which we can introduce a younger generation to the special qualities of our purebred dogs. Not only are they our beloved companions and magnificent creatures, our breeds have rich histories and great stories from their countries of origin.