Man's Best Friend Lends a Sympathetic Ear
Dogs help local students improve reading skills
Dogs have become uniquely adapted to living with mankind. We have bred them for looks, intelligence and physical skills.
Certified therapy dogs fill a different need, lending a nonjudgmental ear to children who need practice reading. It might be the furry body, the intelligent eyes, the fun of being with a dog (in a library), or the spontaneous friendship that springs up, but children who might otherwise be loath to read look forward to reading out loud.
Vincent Vitale’s mom said that “We are not animal people," but after her son’s reading experience with Jasper she was impressed. Jasper, a corgi, has even gone to Vincent’s house to listen to him read. He has his own bowl and toys there, since the proverb All work and no play ... holds true for dogs, too.
Vincent, 7, likes to lean on Jasper and read books about upcoming holidays or fiction like Clifford the Big Red Dog.
“It’s fun to read to him," he said. "Sometimes he makes funny noises, but he never laughs, and always pays attention. Other dogs walk away, or cats can hiss, but Jasper is good.”
Jasper lives with Melissa Brickman. She had him certified as a therapy dog, and then contacted area libraries to get the reading program started. Currently, four to six dogs participate in the program. Thirty-minute appointments are scheduled and each child gets to relax and read books of their choice.
Lauren Vladyka and her sister Angela are also part of the program, although this is only their second time. Reading to Jasper came naturally to both. Stroking Jasper's beautiful coat, Lauren said that generally she likes to read fiction as well as biographies, but this is special because they don’t have a dog at home.
Seven-year-old Angela just sits tightly next to Jasper and slowly reads Dr. Seuss. Her concentration is on the words, and she seems relaxed as he flicks his ears and sighs contently. It does not matter if she skips a page or a word, he is happy as long as he can her voice. As their mom gives them time alone with the dog she says that, “This is a wonderful program and the dogs are just amazing.”
This is also Hailey Snyder’s second time, but she has a much bigger audience. She reads to Fortune, who is a 186-pound mastiff.
“I was a little bit scared, but really excited when I first saw her, now I know she is nice and can sit.”
Fortune takes everything is stride, sometimes she sits or even lies down to get her belly rubbed while listening to stories of fairies. Donald Barfield, her handler, stands by with drool rag and listens as well.
The children’s area of Willoughby library is now gently humming with the sounds of reading and the thump of a tail wag against the floor.