By Anna Lieberman • Intern • 

Dogs lend ears to kids reading at library

Anna Lieberman/ News-Register##
Siblings Michael, 7, and Claire Sun, 5, flip through a picture book, explaining the images to therapy dog, Summer. Both said they enjoyed spending time with the pup.
Anna Lieberman/ News-Register## Siblings Michael, 7, and Claire Sun, 5, flip through a picture book, explaining the images to therapy dog, Summer. Both said they enjoyed spending time with the pup.
Anna Lieberman/ News-Register##
Tabatha Jordan, 8, quietly reads a book to therapy dog Summer, who often wags her tail or sniffs the pages.
Anna Lieberman/ News-Register## Tabatha Jordan, 8, quietly reads a book to therapy dog Summer, who often wags her tail or sniffs the pages.

A dog doesn’t read and a dog doesn’t judge. But a dog can listen.

Paws for Love, following other organizations around the country, has started a program in which children read to trained therapy pets in the McMinnville Public Library. Youngsters set up 10 minute sessions to read to a dog while adults are instructed to avoid interupting with any word corrections. A dog visits the library from 11 a.m. to noon Fridays in the summer and 3 to 4 p.m. during the school year.

“Our job here is to let kids read to dogs and not to teach the kids to read,” said therapy dog owner Kathy Rock.

Last Friday, she let her West Highland white terrier, Summer, lie down beside different kids as they sounded out words in books or explained the happenings in each picture.

She said the dogs “never interrupt. They don’t judge you if you have a problem with your reading. They just calmly listen.”

Tabatha Jordan, 8, read to Summer in the Children’s Room.

She was nervous at first, but once she started reading and petting the small animal, she felt more comfortable.

“She was nice,” Jordan said of Summer, smiling. “She was loving and cuddly.”

She added, “It felt like I was reading to no one.”

Paws for Love President Cyndi Mitchell said the reading to dogs concept aims to encourage kids to feel comfortable reading, whether alone or to other people.

“You have a lot of children that are afraid of making mistakes in front of an adult or their peers even,” she said. “And so, they don’t want to read. Where here, reading to the dog, it’s okay. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to take those chances.”

Mitchell used to teach reading and writing to grade school children. She’d bring her dog, Meah, to school and noticed the calming effect Meah had on kids hesitant to read.

“[There are] children that maybe didn’t get through one or two pages, but all of a sudden can read a whole book when reading to a dog because it’s so calming.”

While children can try to read to any pet, therapy dogs through Paws for Love are trained specifically for the occasion.

Although they need a mild, friendly temperament anyway, they go through courses with their handler to ensure they stay calm in any situation. A major component of therapy dog training is that the handler’s keep the dog safe.

“And I’ve found this extremely humbling to realize that the dog trusts me to the point where she’s not going to yip or snap or bark,” Rock said of Summer. “Because she knows that I’m there to protect her.”

As a young child at the library loudly dropped a basket of toy blocks on the floor, Summer still wagged her tail while her head lay beside a child’s feet.

”I think that she enjoys this,” Rock said. “We don’t have any kids at home anymore, and she’s sociable and you can see that.”

She laughed, saying, “I have to remind her sometimes that the whole world didn’t come just to see her.”

To participate in the Read to a Dog program or other Paws for Love activites, dog owners and pets can attend the next six-hour workshop in October. They’ll also need to pass a test measuring their dog’s ability to stay calm in stressful situations and undergo practice visitations.

Mitchell can be reached at 503-474-7268 for more information.

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