It’s like chocolate and peanut butter: they’re a magical combination
The Olathe Public Library has a program for dog lovers who enjoy reading. Held once a month on Saturdays, the R.E.A.D. to a Dog program provides an opportunity for book-loving dog lovers to read to a trained Reading Education Assistance Dog.
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Offered by the library for the past several years, this free, drop-in program offers opportunities for children, their siblings, and families to make new discoveries about reading, build confidence, and enjoy the company of big dogs.
Trained in animal-assisted therapy, the pet/owner teams are all volunteers for Pets for Life. Pets for Life is a multi-faceted, animal-assisted therapy organization with more than 200 pet-owner volunteer teams in the Kansas City area.
On Aug. 5, Donna Amato’s 10-year-old bullmastiff, Roxy, was hugged and petted, aas she played the role of pillow. She calmly listened to stories read by children, ages 3 to 10. Some of the children who attended currently have dogs at home.
Sebastian Mauquer, 8, falls into the group that hopes to have one in the future.
“I am going to get a Golden Retriever,” said the enthusiastic Mauquer.
Brooke Curry attended the program with her daughters, Lillian, 6, and Cora, 3. Cora is a beginning reader and Curry felt this would be a fun and different way to read.
The family’s dog, Koa, passed away last year. “We still miss him so much and I thought this would be nice,” Curry said.
Many of the program’s patrons come back month after month because they love it, says Kate Capps, Olathe’s children’s librarian and school liaison. The children learn that big dogs can be a lot friendlier than they thought, and many families participate together and even take photos with the dogs, Capps says.
“There are many tangential layers and benefits to this program,” she notes. “One attendee, who had a dog as a child but doesn’t currently have one, laid down on the floor beside the dog and just held him.”
According to Amato, children’s reading challenges often have to do with lack of confidence and fear of failure. R.E.A.D. dogs help decrease these anxieties and fears. Dogs are accepting and great listeners, she says. They do not judge or ridicule, and they permit children to work at their own pace. Dogs also promote a sense of well-being and relaxation when they are petted.
The R.E.A.D. experience is successful for children because participants actually view themselves as helping the dog learn and understand the reading material.
The role of the handler, such as Amato, is as a knowledgeable, trained facilitator who provides support, while the children read and build vocabulary, comprehension, and reading fluency.
Capps says the library is deeply grateful to Pets for Life for providing the R.E.A.D. program to its patrons.
“Anything we can offer to contribute to literacy and the love of books is a bonus,” she said. “In our society, where we are so much more detached because of our devices, this is face time and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Olathe Public Library’s next R.E.A.D. program will be held Oct. 7, from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. There will not be a September date because of Labor Day.
Pets for Life would like to add new pet-assisted therapy volunteers to its team. If you and your pet (dog, cat, rabbit, or other animal) are interested, please contact 816-363-3665