CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Lifestyle

January 2, 2013

At Libraries, Dogs Are All Ears

Sean Sullivan chose a book, sat down on the library rug and explained to Tavish that he was going to read him a mystery about a hidden treasure.

Tavish, never one to turn down a good story, wagged his short red tail and put his head on Sean's knee.

On the other side of the room, tucked into the back of the children's section of an Alexandria, Va., library, Jonathan Mendez was reading with a Spanish accent to a black Portuguese water dog named Skipper. A golden retriever was sprawled out in another corner, and a tiny toy poodle sat up, bright eyed, as a girl read to him about an alligator.

"If you're reading aloud in school to a whole class, you might be nervous," said Sean, who's 8. "But the dogs are really here to listen."

A growing number of libraries and some schools are inviting volunteers to bring their dogs in to help children learn, hoping the pets will calm children who are struggling, excite those who are bored and help kids equate reading with fun.

At the Charles E. Beatley Jr. Central Library in Alexandria on a recent night, there was a waiting list for "Paws to Read," with children clutching books outside the room hoping to get a turn.

Some had learning disabilities, and their parents wanted them to practice in a non-judgmental place. Some were learning English and liked reading without having their pronunciation corrected with every word. Some were shy about speaking up in class. And some, like Sean and his sister Mary, love reading and had been looking forward all week to reading to Tavish, a Hungarian Vizsla.

"They have so much fun," librarian Ginny Rawls said. "The kids just light up. It's really a wonderful program. I can't say enough good things about it."

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