Education

Reading can be less ‘ruff’ for kids when their audience is a furry one

A boy reads to Reading Education Assistance Dog Chewbacca at the Olympia Timberland Library last year. They were part of a Paws to READ program.
A boy reads to Reading Education Assistance Dog Chewbacca at the Olympia Timberland Library last year. They were part of a Paws to READ program. Courtesy of the Olympia Timberland Library

Paws to READ puts a twist on story time. Instead of listening to grownups, children read — to dogs.

Whether the dogs appreciate the nuances of plot and character is of no consequence. Kids love it, say those who’ve observed.

“There was one little boy who followed us all over,” said Cheryl King of Olympia, who co-founded the local group in 2004. “His mother brought him everywhere we went.”

Olympia’s Reading Education Assistance Dogs — certified as friendly and sociable — make frequent appearances at libraries, schools and the Hands on Children’s Museum.

This Saturday, King and her golden retriever, Caribou, will be part of a pack of pooches and their people ready to listen at the Olympia Timberland Library.

And if past experience is an indication, children will be eager to read. But getting down on the floor to share a favorite book with a furry friend isn’t just about fun. The idea is to decrease young readers’ anxiety about reading and boost their confidence.

“It’s a great program, particularly for kids who are struggling with reading and just need that extra calming presence,” said Kristi Selby, a youth services librarian at the Lacey Timberland Library. “It’s a fun way to practice their literacy skills.

“I’ve seen kids just glowing after they’ve shared a story,” she told The Olympian.

King has countless stories about lives that have been changed since she and Paws co-founder Brenda Wendler began visiting schools with their dogs.

When the dogs visited the Tumwater Timberland Library last month, a woman came up to share a story about her daughter’s experience with the program. The girl wasn’t interested in reading, no matter what her mother tried, the woman told King.

“Then they came to Paws to READ, and the little girl read to every dog that was there,” King said. “And her mother said, ‘I couldn’t stop her from reading after that.’ Now she’s in high school, and she’s writing a book.”

Paws’ Reading Education Assistance Dogs — who range in size from Newfoundlands to tiny terriers — must be trained and socialized to deal with the different situations and people they might encounter.

Not every dog, no matter how smart or well mannered, is suited to the job, King said.

Her own Caribou was in training to be a guide dog for a blind person, but that career didn’t quite fit, which is how she came to King.

“She liked people too much to be a one-person dog,” King said. “She’s turned out to be a really good therapy dog because she loves people.”

The South Sound canines and their companions — a group that numbers about 20 pairs — don’t just help kids with reading. They also visit retirement homes and work with Sound Care Kids, which supports children grieving the loss of a family member.

“If they don’t have a dog there, it takes the facilitators about three weeks to have the kids open up,” King said. “But if you have a dog there, they open up the first night. They open up to the dog.”

Paws to READ

What: Children are invited to read aloud to friendly Reading Education Assistance Dogs.

Where:

  • At the Olympia Timberland Library: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, 313 Eighth Ave. SE, Olympia. Free. 360-352-0595, trl.org
  • At the Hands on Children’s Museum: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. March 23, 414 Jefferson St. NE, Olympia. Free with museum admission. 360-956-0818, hocm.org
  • At the Lacey Timberland Library: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. April 27, 500 College St. SE, Lacey. Free. 360-491-3860, trl.org

More information: For details on the program or on becoming a volunteer, email Cheryl King at snarfandshelby@comcast.net. Canine volunteers must become certified therapy dogs; for details, see golden-dogs.org.

  Comments