Dogs of the Day
by Carie Broecker
Lily and Tempe are both therapy dogs certified by Therapy Dogs International. They are also two of the most well-read dogs around. Every other Friday during the school year, either Lily, a Labrador Retriever, or Tempe, a Doberman Pinscher can be found at the Carmel Valley Library enjoying a good book.
No, these dogs have not learned to read, but they are part of an innovative approach to motivating children to become better, more confident readers. Libraries and schools across the country are using therapy dogs to help make reading fun and enjoyable for children.
As part of the Monterey County Free Library’s After-School Homework Center Program, Tempe and Lily add an element of fun to the afternoon and help put the children at ease while they practice their reading skills.
When the dogs arrive, the children turn away from their computers immediately and take turns greeting the dogs with hugs, kisses, and pets. When it’s time to start reading, the children hush quickly in anticipation of getting started. The children take turns reading out loud while snuggled up next to one of the dogs, which definitely brings a sense of comfort and security and takes the pressure off pronouncing every word correctly.
In an era when children spend much of their time with computer games and electronic devices, it is heartening to know that something as simple as bringing a gentle dog into a room can grab their attention and encourage the children to read out loud to the dog and to each other. Children look forward to their turn to read, and a camaraderie develops amongst the group so the children encourage and support each other. How does this happen? Why does this happen?
We live in a competitive society, but when these youngsters start sharing time with a dog, the dog’s calm, unconditionally loving, nonjudgmental attitude serves as a model for the children. The dogs don’t care if you stumble over some words or mispronounce a word. Sitting with a book in one hand and petting Lily or Tempe with the other brings a sense of comfort.
Children that read to dogs tend to read more often and frequently begin to choose more difficult books to read. According to the website, www.librarydogs.com, “In 2006 several dogs and their handlers in a suburban Minnesota town participated in a pilot project called PAWSitive Readers. After reading to the dogs just once a week for seven weeks, 10 of the 14 children improved their reading scores at least one grade level.”
Carmel Valley Library’s “Tails and Tales” program started just over two years ago when Cindy Thatcher, a school teacher and guardian of Lily, the therapy dog, approached Jennifer Smith, the supervising librarian, with the idea of bringing Lily to the library as part of a children’s reading program. Soon thereafter, Patti Neil, a part-time employee at the library, volunteered to bring her therapy dog, Tempe, to read with the children as well.
Tempe and Lily both have exceptional personalities that were apparent to their guardians from the time they were small pups. They both have an affinity for people, especially children. And both have an innate instinct for soothing whomever they are with.
The program quickly became very popular and has since been incorporated into the library’s Homework Center Program. Children from third through seventh grades go to the library after school to get help with their homework. All week the children look forward to Fridays, the day that either Tempe or Lily will arrive for the reading hour.
Some key elements about the program are that the children get to choose what book they read. That makes a big difference for them. Children like to have choices and feel like they are in control.
Also, the children get to pick out a book to take home to keep. These books are provided by a grant from the Carmel Valley Kiwanis Club.
Learning to love to read helps children grow up to be lifelong readers, which increases their comprehension, and improves their analytical skills. Thank you Lily and Tempe for encouraging the next generation to thrive!
The Castroville Library located at 11266 Merritt Street also has a therapy dog reading hour every Saturday morning at 11:00 AM. Unfortunately, Carmel-By-The-Sea’s Harrison Memorial Library discontinued their library dog program this year due to insurance concerns. We could not locate any library dog programs in Santa Cruz County. If you know of one, let us know!