Sit, stay, read
Seattle Times staff reporter
Lady, an Australian shepherd mix who had been lounging in a sunny window seat at the Bothell Regional Library, pricked up her ears and wagged her tail when she saw 10-year-old Nicholas Goodman.
When he sat down next to her with the book "Down in the Subway" and started to read aloud, she leaned against him, eyes closed and appeared to listen intently. Her expression never changed, not even when Nicholas stumbled over tricky words like "guava."
That's the whole idea behind "Reading with Rover," a summer program for children at the Bothell and Kenmore branches of the King County Regional Library System. The program pairs companion dogs with kids who may be uncomfortable reading aloud. The dogs provide their rapt attention and the children can read aloud without fear of criticism or interruption.
Children spend 15-minute sessions reading to a dog. The dog's owner and sometimes the child's parent sit nearby and help the child sound out tough words.
Wu said that children don't have to have problems with reading in order to participate. Many come just to cuddle with a pooch and share a story.
Wu modeled the Bothell program after a two-year-old program at the Salt Lake City Public Library called Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ), which also pairs children with trained therapy dogs who listen patiently as children read.
READ was the brainchild of Sandi Martin, a member of Intermountain Therapy Animals, a Salt Lake City-based group that certifies pets to become therapy animals.
Michael Taoli of the Salt Lake library said the program has grown from a temporary one to a once-a-week opportunity for all kids, whether they have trouble reading or not.
The program takes place in all five of the city's libraries.
"It made perfect sense to me that you would combine two tremendously important things: literacy and, well, I am an animal lover," Wu said.
Wu looked up dog trainers on the Internet to find dogs that would be good around children. That's how she found Dotti Snow of Woodinville, a registered nurse who runs a program called "Paws for Health" with dog trainer Becky Bishop. The program is not related to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society.
Paws for Health trains dogs and their human companions to participate in therapeutic animal programs for patients at hospitals and nursing homes.
Snow's two standard poodles and Bishop's pair of Labrador retrievers also participate in the program. Bishop said her chocolate Lab, Boomer, interacts especially well with the children. Snow said the program works because the dogs act like they know the children.
"It's an extension of the family pet," she said.
And what do the dogs get out of it?
"She absolutely loves it," said Lady's owner, Carla Nordlinder. "She loves the attention."
The Bothell program's last summer session will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday. There will also be an "Evening with Rover" at the Kenmore library Wednesday, starting at 7 p.m.
Wu said that the program has been such a hit that she hopes to make it permanent. The tentative plan now is to start it up again in mid-October.
Catherine Tarpley can be reached at 206-464-8255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.