Animal House: Once Upon A Canine...

Apr 11, 2017

One great way to help kids get more excited about reading is to pair them off with a furry pal.

The staff of The Normal Public Library knows a thing or two about literacy.  For over a year now, the library has offered Pages & Paws, a therapy dog reading program that helps kids practice their reading skills with a furry reading buddy.

"It's a non-judgmental environment," said Julia Martin,  NPL's Tech and Programming Librarian for the children's department. "When they're reading to a dog, a dog is not judging them or correcting them.  Its just patiently waiting for them to read the words and just tell the story.  It also adds a comfort level that kids may not get when reading to adults." 

These aren't just any canines -- they're specially trained and certified  therapy dogs. "The dogs have been taught to be very calm," said Martin.

Harley is a nine-year old golden retriever, and his handler is Kathy Yelton.  They've been a certified therapy dog team for six years. Yelton noted that Harley has always been a mellow and caring canine. "I started him with obedience training, and then he got his canine good citizen, and it was like...'what do I do next?' And someone at Town and Country Kennel Club suggested that Harley would be a great therapy dog."

While reading to dogs helps kids increase their reading and comprehension skills, there's other benefits, as well.

"Kids increase their comfort levels -- with dogs, with being around new people and new situations," explained Martin. "So they gain a little independence."

Abby Wheeler is already a dog lover, which is why she wanted to be a part of this program. "I love dogs and I can't wait to see Harley, declared Abby, who brought The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell to read to Harley.

Nine-year old Cooper Rutledge is also a fan of the program.  "I thought it would be a good chance to have some fun," he said of Pages & Paws.

Cooper's mom, Kelly, has seen an improvement in his reading -- and more. "This gives him more confidence, and then he goes to school and other places and he's not nervous about talking or reading in front of other people."

Librarian Julia Martin noted that although this program is designed to help students, it also helps the therapy dog handlers, as it gives them a chance to give back to their community in a unique way.

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