Read with therapy dogs during PAWS for Reading

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published June 11, 2018

 Aizlyn, a 3-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever and certified therapy dog, poses for a picture at a bookstore during a program similar to the one coming to the Utica Public Library on Thursdays.

Aizlyn, a 3-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever and certified therapy dog, poses for a picture at a bookstore during a program similar to the one coming to the Utica Public Library on Thursdays.

Photo provided by Therapy Dogs International

UTICA — The Utica Public Library will host its first-ever read-with-a-therapy-dog events at the library during the months of June and July in correlation with its summer reading program that begins this month.

The new reading event, PAWS for Reading, will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on six different dates in the children’s area of the library.

The event will be the fifth event during the summer reading program.

During the event, children can come in and sign up to read to a therapy dog. Dogs are quiet and friendly for struggling readers to practice their reading. The sessions are designed for children who are beginning to read independently.

“This is our first year to have the PAWS for Reading program, though other libraries in the area have been doing it with great success. If our patrons respond well to it, we’ll certainly consider having it throughout the year — not limiting to summer reading,” said Marsha Doege, director of the Utica Public Library.

The six dates that the library will host the event are June 21 and 28, and July 5, 12, 19 and 26.

No registration is required. Walk in during the event hours.

“I’m thrilled that we’re doing this and that Katherine Francis, our children’s services coordinator, made it all happen,” Doege said.

“PAWS for Reading allows children to read aloud to trained service dogs. Since dogs are nonjudgmental listeners, children can gain great confidence in reading to them, knowing that their skills are not going to be criticized or corrected. And it’s fun. After all, most children love dogs and animals, and since these are trained dogs, they are nonthreatening, and their handlers are present,” said Doege.  

The library has a variety of programs designed specifically for the community to come in and enjoy during the summer.

“When I started at the library last August, Marsha explained the struggle we may have with getting people back into the library. With that in mind as I was putting together and organizing the summer reading program, I really wanted to offer activities that would entice children to not only come into the library, but have them reading in the library on their summer vacation,” said Francis via email.

Cute doggies seemed like the perfect idea.

“Reading isn’t exactly the first thing children think about when they think of summer, but we want to change that because reading can be fun. I struggled with this with my own kids, and I’m also a teacher in the area, and I often see the struggle children have with reading. What I like so much about the concept of reading to therapy dogs is that it gives children a comforting space to read,” said Francis.

Francis said the program is especially good for children who are struggling readers, because oftentimes they won’t want to read aloud because of being criticized or interrupted. Reading to trained therapy dogs gives children the opportunity to gain confidence and improve their reading skills.

“We are running this program for the six weeks of summer reading to see how well it does, with the hope of continuing this on a weekly basis all year round,” she said.

Children can stop in during the program time and spend 10-15 minutes reading a book of their choice to one of the two therapy dogs that will be at the library.

“We are starting with two therapy dogs right now: Aizlyn, a 3-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever, and Izzy, who is a 10-year-old golden retriever. Both dogs are certified therapy dogs who have experience doing these programs in other libraries,” said Francis.

Francis said she did a little research while planning the event and found the organization Therapy Dogs International.

“They are a volunteer organization that brings qualified dogs and handlers to any place that is needed. Many times it is nursing homes, disaster stress relief, hospitals and libraries. They also will do home visits, which I found interesting, but because their mission is really to bring comfort and love to people, it makes sense that they will go anywhere they are needed,” Francis said.

“The handlers are everyday people who volunteer their certified therapy dogs to go to different places. One of the handlers that is coming to our library is a Birmingham schoolteacher,” said Francis.

The library will provide a comfortable atmosphere for both participants and their reading companions.

“It’s a small area, but it’s very intimate and comfortable and surrounded by children’s books. The dogs will be accompanied by their handlers, and I will provide a blanket for the dogs and children to sit on together. I really want this to be as comfortable as possible so it’s enjoyed by everyone and it’s something we can continue to do long past the summer reading program,” said Francis.

The Utica Public Library is located at 7530 Auburn Road in Utica.

For more information, visit www.uticalibrary.com.