Youth reading program continues to be barking good time

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 7, 2016


BIRMINGHAM — It doesn’t get much sweeter than watching a child practice their reading skills by reading one of their favorite stories aloud.

That is, unless you add a cuddly dog to the mix.

Twice a month, parents can bring their new readers over to the Baldwin Public Library for the Ruff Readers program. Children ages 6 and older take turns reading to certified therapy dogs, who have been trained to be patient and attentive to young storytellers.

And that’s important, according to Stephanie Klimmek, head of youth services at the BPL.

“A lot of times it can be difficult for children to read to a grown-up or someone they know. They can be easily embarrassed,” she explained. “(The program) takes that away. The dogs don’t care how many mistakes; they don’t care if you read words incorrectly. It gives kids the chance to practice their reading aloud.”

Klimmek added that Ruff Readers is good for kids who don’t particularly enjoy reading just yet, but still need to put in the time to hone their developing skills.

“Some kids are more reluctant readers. But reading to dogs is just fun,” Klimmek said. “Anytime we can make reading fun instead of something they have to do or that’s just a chore, we want to make it fun for them.”

And the benefits go beyond the books, according to Karen West, a certified dog trainer and dog safety presenter from Beverly Hills.

“Being able to read a dog’s body language can help in determining if a dog is happy or anxious. Happy dogs are able to learn and play and are safe companions. Anxious dogs find it difficult to learn or play and can pose a potential bite risk,” West said.

“The good news is that most dogs use body language to let you know they are feeling anxious well before they choose to act in a potentially harmful way. It is important for children and parents to be familiar with this body language — a dog’s plea for help — in order to respond appropriate for their own safety and for the well-being of the dog.”

West’s own whippet, Camilla, is one of the dogs that makes regular appearances in Ruff Readers. Each session is kept to fewer than 30 readers so the kids and the dogs can have a calm, comfortable visit.

The next Ruff Readers sessions are scheduled for Saturday, March 12, and Tuesday, April 5. Saturday sessions are held from 10 to 11 a.m., and Tuesday sessions are held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

To register, call (248) 554-4670 or visit

The Baldwin Public Library is located at 300 W. Merrill St. in downtown Birmingham.