Photo by Theo Tate
Therapy dogs Nala (left) and Tokey participated in the Oct. 13 Tales For Tails reading program at the Six Mile Regional Library District Johnson Road library branch. Sitting next to Nala is therapy dog volunteer Leslie Tolliver; next to Tokey is volunteer Debbie Weaver.
GRANITE CITY — Tales For Tails is back at the Six Mile Regional Library District.
The reading program returned Oct. 13 at the Johnson Road branch. Every second Tuesday of the month from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., children from kindergarten to eighth grade will get a chance to read to a dog.
The dogs are Tokey, an 8-year-old Australian shepherd, and Nala, a 3-year-old Labrador. They’re both part of the CHAMP (Canine Helpers Allow More Possibilities) Therapy Dogs program.
“We want to interest children in reading,” said Liz Aurbach, program director. “That’s our contribution in literacy. We do this in many libraries up and down Southern Illinois. We also do this as far as St. Charles County in Missouri and St. Louis. The idea is the children would come in and read to a dog. Our own research and other research by other institutions has shown that children enjoy reading to dogs.”
The Six Mile Library District originally held the program last year at its temporary location at Niedringhaus Elementary while the downtown branch was being renovated.
Aurbach said other Metro East libraries such as Glen Carbon, O’Fallon, Edwardsville and Columbia also have the program.
“At any rate, it turns out to be a good thing to do,” Aurbach said. “When we do it at a school, we do it with a teacher. The teacher then directs what books the kid should read and levels and what not. The teacher may step in and help the kid with a word or make some corrections. That will be called animal-assisted therapy because the teacher is basically professionally in charge of that topic. But we do it in schools. To libraries, it’s just fun. It’s always cool because people do not expect to see a dog at a library, the same way they don’t expect to see a dog in a hospital.”
Aurbach said Denver was one of the first cities in the country to have a therapy dog reading program.
“It’s such a cool idea and kids like it,” she said. “The kids who don’t like reading will read to a dog. Dogs are non-judgmental, so if you have somebody who has trouble reading and stumbles over words ... you know more than the dog and the dog is not going to say anything to you.”
Aurbach said children can read any book they want.
“If they have trouble with it, the librarians will help them choose a book,” Aurbach said. “Often, because it’s a dog, they’ll pick a book about dogs, but it can be about anything. I once had a kid who picked up a book about Komodo dragons and leaned over the dog before she started and said to the librarian kind of quietly, ‘Do you think your dog will be afraid of dragons?’ Our handler said, ‘No, I think he can handle that.’ It’s a fun thing to do. It makes kids get interested in reading.”
Aurbach said she likes seeing children read to dogs.
“They read with greater expression,” she said. “They read slower, they read more carefully and they worry about whether or not the dog is interested. They don’t show the dog pictures. It’s really quite interesting to see that happen.”
Debbie Weaver, one of the therapy dog volunteers, said Tokey has been going to the library for a year and a half.
“Because she’s well-behaved and she’s trained and she likes people, we thought that being a therapy dog would be a fun thing to do,” she said. “So we went to the program, which is about four months, and we went to the training and here we are.”
Leslie Tolliver, another therapy dog volunteer, said she enjoys working with Nala.
“She’s kind of like one of our family,” she said. “She likes to meet people, she can be very rambunctious and she can be overly friendly.”
Based in Florissant, Mo., CHAMP has 80 teams of handlers and dogs and a cat who meet more than 1,500 people per month on scheduled visits to not only libraries, but to hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, nursery schools, adult day care centers, schools and colleges in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
The next Tales for Tails program is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10. For information, contact the Six Mile Johnson Road branch library at (618) 452-6244.
Follow @NewsAdVantage on Twitter