Riley, a spunky and charismatic Havanese, sits with one paw placed gently on the hands of eight-year-old Madison McGirl of Corvallis as she reads a book aloud. Claudia Jump, Riley’s owner and handler, explains how much her dog enjoys interacting with people. Across the room, Dustee the Whippet, a seasoned therapy dog of nearly 10 years, rests his head on a blanket nestled next to another girl as she eagerly tells him a story. Jacque Barrington, Dustee’s owner and the Reading Education Assistance Dogs Program coordinator, said Dustee loves spending time with children and is always accepting of the treats he receives throughout the reading lessons.
Riley and Dustee are trained and certified therapy dogs participating in the local R.E.A.D. Program. The program has been part of the early literacy education offerings at the library for about 10 years, according to Dana Campbell, a youth services reference librarian.
“A child will sit down and read with one of those wonderful dogs and their kind handlers. We’re trying to instill that confidence to be a reader. We also have a lot of people who use the R.E.A.D. program to introduce dogs to their children,” Campbell said.
The R.E.A.D. dogs and their handlers are members of Welcome Waggers, a national organization.
“The interaction between the children and the dogs is just incredible,” said Barrington, a retired schoolteacher. “This has been a very successful program in helping children read. The whole idea is for the child to relax, and they’re not threatened by reading to a dog.”
Welcome Waggers coordinator Wendy McCoy said in addition to bringing “peace and joy” to the humans they interact with, therapy dogs come with health benefits.
“Visiting with a therapy dog can lower blood pressure. Almost everybody who sees a dog wants to pet it. We bring smiles to people’s faces,” she said. “Everybody wants a chance [to meet one of the dogs].”
R.E.A.D. teams visit the library at the end of each summer for the “Dog Days of August,” where for three days each week throughout the month the kids can hang out with the gentle canines. The program happens about once a month throughout the school year. You can visit www.cbcpubliclibrary.net for a schedule.
By Abbie Tumbleson