“Why am I reading to a dog?” asked the dubious 7-year-old. “That sounds dumb. Do I have to?”
“Yes, the dog is waiting for you. We have to go in right now,” answered grandma, firmly herding him toward the Nyack Library Children’s Story Hour Room.
One sneak peek inside and the second-grade skeptic was a believer. He snatched up Dr. Seuss’s “Fox in Sox,” and stood fidgeting outside the door, waiting his turn.
The boy, the dog and the book were part of Nyack Library’s new monthly Reading Education Assistance Dogs® [R.E.A.D.] program, a concept developed in 1999 by Intermountain Therapy Animals of Utah. Therapy Dogs of Rockland provides the R.E.A.D.-trained dogs and handlers, and for just over a year have been presenting this program free of charge to several libraries and elementary schools in the county. “It’s not just for kids having trouble with reading,” said George Berger of Therapy Dogs of Rockland. “It’s for all kids regardless of ability. It relaxes them and builds their confidence. The purpose is to make them enthusiastic. Reading for pleasure is the point.”
R.E.A.D. made its debut at Nyack Library on Tuesday, September 13. Although things started off quietly, Claudia Uccellani, Senior Librarian for Youth Services, soon found herself acting as a traffic cop for a crowd of happy, excited little kids.
“I assumed we would have a good response because it’s such a successful program elsewhere, but it was even better than expected. September is sometimes a slower month, but everyone jumped right on this,” said Uccellani.
A few of the kids were apprehensive about going into the room without their parent, but they all did and stayed for the full 10 minutes. Each young reader was paired with a canine and its caretaker. Candace Robinson, R.E.A.D., program coordinator, brought Buster, a mellow 7-year-old yellow labrador retriever. George Berger accompanied 8-year-old Paco, who, according to Berger, is “a lot of chihuahua and some other parts we’re not sure of.” Both pooches listened attentively to each new reading friend.
Uccellani said that the library has booked Therapy Dogs of Rockland and R.E.A.D. for monthly visits. “We’re so fortunate to have the R.E.A.D. program as a partner in building literacy in our community. There’s nothing cuter than a young child engaged and happy to be reading while cuddling with an ever patient and accepting dog,” she said.
The demand for therapy dogs, in a variety of settings, is quickly outstripping supply. “We are always on the lookout for new teams to screen, put through the six-week course and get certified,” says George Berger. If you’ve got a dog with a terrific—and calm—temperament, and want to learn more, Therapy Dogs of Rockland wants to hear from you.
The next scheduled dates for the R.E.A.D. program at Nyack Library are Tuesday, October 11 and Tuesday, November 8 from 4:00 – 5:30 pm. Registration for this popular program is limited to children age 4-8 who are residents of the Nyacks and Valley Cottage. Call the Nyack Library at (845) 358-3370 ext. 228 for more info and to sign up your child, or register online.