These Libraries Are Going To The Dogs January 13, 2010 – Tags: dogs, Libraries, literacy, Reading / Literacy, therapy dogs
“I need a little help with my reading, because I’m sometimes a slow reader,” said Linda , a 9-year-old New York City girl. She found the perfect tutor at New York Public Library. Kassandra, another grade-schooler, shares a tutor with Linda, and she puts it this way: “My teacher said, ‘Where do you get your reading skills from?’ and I told her, ‘I read to a dog.'” Both girls struggled with reading out loud until they met shepherd mix Missy, a therapy dog who is part of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program. The program has been so successful in improving reading scores that it has spread nationwide, over 2,300 dog and trainer teams are now helping reluctant readers become book lovers, according to a 2009 ABC News story.
Kids who have trouble reading often give up when faced with corrections, criticism, and even downright cruelty at the hands of teachers or fellow students. This makes therapy dogs a perfect audience. The dogs are patient, nonjudgmental, and can even be trained to be encouraging. When a reading child pauses or stumbles over a word, a specially trained therapy dog learns to give a gentle nose-nudge or lick. Brian, an 8-year-old, says his reading partner, Border Collie mix Theo, “looks at the story book and smiles a lot.” The canine stress reliever makes reading a joy for these kids, instead of a dreaded task.
(Photo Courtesy Of The New York Daily News.)
New York City’s Bidawee Learning Center runs a variant of the program, taking therapy dogs to homeless shelters for families in the Bronx and Manhattan. Homeless kids often attend school only sporadically, and their reading skills suffer for it. The tremendous stress of being homeless can also be helped by a furry friend. Director of Homes For The Homeless, Robert Mascali praised the program: “These kids are going through a difficult time in their lives. Its unconditional love and we all need that. They’re caressing the dogs. They’re loving them. It is 50% emotional and 50% reading.” Said one shelter kid: “I have somebody that listens to me when I read. And if I make a mistake, there’s no one around to laugh.”