Bernice is not your average farm dog. She is a Shelby County comfort therapy dog that helps children gain confidence in reading and speaking.
“Children will read to a dog more easily than they will read to an adult,” said Sandy Brix, who owns Bernice with her husband, John. I kind of sit in the background and they read to Bernice. If they get stuck, they’ll pick up the book like, ‘Well, what’s that word?'”
The Brix family said the children are engaged and excited to read with Bernice.
Watch Bernice at work on Brix’s farm and in teacher Kendra Bryan’s first grade classroom at Main Street Elementary in Shelbyville.
“They usually always turn the book over so she can see too, in case she wants to read and see the pictures,” said John Bricks.
Known as the Bernedoodle, a mix of a Bernese Mountain dog and a poodle, it’s a finalist in the American Farm Federation’s “People’s Choice Pup” competition. The Brix family described her as “very easy-going” and “good with other dogs and a lot of people”.
Brixes has Bernice enrolled in basic dog obedience training as well as Pet Partners, a national organization that implements a pet therapy certification program. Dogs certified through the program can help in schools, with seniors and veterans and in other situations that improve human health and well-being through human-animal bonding.
The couple, now retired, began their animal veterinary practice more than 40 years ago in an old Shelbyville bait shop. It has grown into a 5,400-square-foot practice and today employs three veterinarians, a certified veterinary technician, and 10 assistants and receptionists.
The two met while studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They’ve bred about eight farm dogs over the years and rank Bernice near the top.
“She’s always ready to go with you and interact with things,” said John Bricks. “It helps some with livestock, but perhaps the biggest part is loyalty and companionship.”
The People’s Choice Pup competition is a component of the AFBF’s Farm Dog of the Year competition. Farm Bureau members with outstanding farm dogs may apply for the competition.
“We selected five dogs who had exciting stories but didn’t make it to the top of the competition,” said Cindy Shearing, the NFL’s director of communications. “These are the finalists for this year’s People’s Choice Pup.”
The winner will be announced at the AFC Annual Conference in January. In addition to bragging rights, the winner will receive Purina products, including one year’s worth of Purina Pro-Plan dry dog food.
To see all of the People’s Choice dogs, including Bernice, plus the chance to vote for your favourite, go online, bit.ly/FarmDog2023.
AFBF has also started posting short videos on its Facebook, Instagram and TikTok pages.