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Meet Story Dog Secret, Who Made Reading Fun for Kids

Natalie Bubner is the Story Dogs Co-ordinator for the Northern Adelaide region. She has been volunteering with this wonderful program for over four years first with her rescue yellow Labrador, Secret, and later with Miss Fergie, a Brussels Griffon. Sadly, last year Secret lost her 14-month battle with cancer. Her heartfelt tribute to Secret will touch anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog.

"Secret and I were meant to be, when we saw each other it was instant love and that love grew deeper and stronger every day. Double braided, a bond that will never be broken...

We rescued each other; Secret was five years old and a rehomed kennel dog. She had so much anxiety and fear and I was trying to cope with PTSD, having been diagnosed the year before after surviving a serious and traumatic cycling accident. 

We became a team, our trust grew stronger every day
and we helped each other to heal our emotional scars. 
She was the most intuitive dog I’ve ever owned, she knew my every emotion, my fears, my doubts, my anxieties, and I’d tell her everything, but she already knew

She’d lean against me and look at me with such devotion and love, we’d cuddle and she always made me feel that everything will be okay; we had each other, that’s all that mattered.

We travelled many paths together, some were steady, while others uneven and going in different directions, but ultimately, we survived by doing it together.

Secret loved everyone and everything, especially other animals. Her best friend was Molly, our very elderly long-haired Tortoiseshell moggie. They would smooch and clean each other every day then curl up together and go to sleep. 

Miss Fergie & Secret wearing
their Dr. Seuss bandanas
Sadly, Molly passed away, so we found Miss Fergie, a seven-year old rescue Griffon Bruxellois, whom Secret mentored and they became the best of friends. 

Secret's first supporting role was a ‘Labs 'n Life’ dog. This is a program that helps young people who may have experienced some personal trauma to acquire life skills by working alongside a Labrador

She enjoyed working with the kids; she was so gentle and patient with them. She understood them and everyone who met her loved her zest for life.

One day, my eldest daughter, Rhia, saw a news story about Story Dogs, a reading literacy program, and suggested it would be perfect for Secret. 

She was absolutely right, Secret was born to be a Story Dog, she adored being with the children, and they loved being with her. 

She was one of the first Story Dogs in Adelaide; we started in 2017, after the required training and dog assessment, and were blessed to be a part of the Lake Windemere School Community

Soon after we started at the School, a local television station did a story on us for their afternoon and evening news, Secret and the children who were lucky enough to be in the program were stars, they all shone so very brightly! 

The first little boy who read to Secret was from an Eastern European back ground so English was his second language.
In the early days he found reading challenging and he would get frustrated by sometimes not being able to understand certain words. 

During his reading sessions, we’d often ask Secret what certain words meant and even though her eyes would be shut at times, because she was so relaxed listening to him read, he was delighted that she could help him with the ‘hard words’. 

Secret with her best friend Jovan
Their friendship and trust in each other grew, and so did his love of reading. The school made a book about Secret and he featured in the book. At the end of every reading session, we’d always have time to read Secret's book. 

He knew it off by heart and he’d read so lovingly to Secret. He absolutely adored her, and she him. They had a very unique bond and as he didn’t have a dog of his own, he always felt Secret was like his own dog. He would give her a little kiss on her forehead and a gentle pat and she’d always wake up when she heard the lid come off the treats container! 

When I told him he needed to leave the Program, he was silent at first then, with tears in his eyes, he gave Secret a big hug and said, “I know other children need to read to her so she can help them the way she helped me” She leaned on him and looked at him so lovingly because she knew that he was upset. 

That was one of my hardest days. I was very proud of him, and because of Secret and his faith in her, he was reading novels by the time he finished in the Program, his favourite being The Treehouse Series of books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.

Whenever we arrived at the School it was always, “Hello Secret” and I was sometimes forgotten, but I was never upset about that because it was always about her. Every child at the School wanted to read to her and when we walked to a classroom to collect a child for a reading session, the children would be very excited and say: “Secret's here” and they all wanted to give her a pat.

Secret was incredibly intuitive and one day we attended an assembly at the School. Secret and I were sitting by the side wall of the assembly hall near the front of the different class groups. There was a young girl in the special needs class, she started to get quite agitated and making loud noises. Secret noticed her and calmly walked over to her, lay next to her and placed her paw out for the young girl to pat her. Her loud noises stopped, she calmed down and had a very happy smile on her face. Secret brought a lot of love and joy to that young girl and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.

One of the boys who read to Secret would get very frustrated in class and didn’t quit know how to deal with it so he would get angry. He loved his reading sessions with Secret and she loved to give him ‘Kisses’, as he called them, which were licks on his arms. We talked a lot about his frustrations and one day I said to him, “Sweetheart, if you get angry this week, what will help you to calm down”? he replied, “I will think of Secret's 100 kisses”, and that’s exactly what he did!

In March 2019, Miss Fergie found a small, pimple size lump on the left side of Secret. About four weeks later, on April 15, Secret was diagnosed with a Grade 4 Mast Cell Tumour and she was given approximately 8 weeks to live. 

To say I was devastated would be an understatement. I remember listening to the words but didn’t really want to hear them. My beautiful, sweet, gentle, loving, kind, trusted and best Labrador friend had cancer and my heart was hurting. 

An ultrasound a few weeks later confirmed it had already metastasized to her spleen. Google became my friend; I did a lot of research on mast cell tumours and had lengthy discussions with my vet. I changed Secret's diet; put her on supplements and other medications and Palladia, a tablet form of chemotherapy. Secret had other plans: she still had a lot of love and joy to give and she wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. 

She had fortnightly blood tests and ultrasounds every 3 months but she soldiered on. I knew there were days when she was tired but when she put her Story Dogs' jacket on, her face lit up and she was so happy to see the kids, it gave her joy and happiness. I never told the children about her cancer, I didn’t see the need to and it never affected her while she was with them.

I decided to retire Secret on June 12, she had a wonderful fun filled retirement party at the School, surrounded by the children and staff who loved her, and she got very spoilt with goodies and lots of hugs. It was a day of mixed emotions; I was grateful to the School community and so very proud of Secret.

Sadly, two weeks later, Secret lost her battle with cancer and passed away peacefully at home in my arms, surrounded by people who loved her. Everyone who met and loved her has been blessed. I don't know what my life will look like without her but it's been enriched beyond words because of her. She has left an incredible legacy and will never be forgotten. 
Me, you, together, always. I love you Secret." 

written by Natalie Bubner for Secret (August 30, 2020 - all rights reserved)

About Story Dogs

Story Dogs is a not-for-profit organisation which was formed by Leah Sheldon and Janine Sigley both parents of primary and high school children. It began at Murwillumbah East Public School in 2009 and dog teams now visit schools around the country.

With 506 volunteer dog teams across 323 schools in NSW, QLD, VIC, TAS, WA, ACT and SA, this program now helps over 2,530 children each week.

All costs of these volunteer dog teams are covered by dog sponsorships, fundraising and donations. It costs approximately $500 per year to put a Dog Team into a primary school. The demand for this literacy program is huge with over 45 schools already on the waiting list.

For more information on volunteering or sponsoring one of the volunteer dog teams, please visit

Miss Fergie joined the Story Dogs program at the same time as Secret and is carrying on her legacy


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