They are golden retrievers and standard poodles, Irish wolfhounds and Newfoundlands, chihuahuas and silky terriers. They have names like Emma Jay, Lex, Cisco and Wriggly. They are just some of the certified therapy dogs you’ll find in the library’s Read to a Dog Program, and they all have one thing in common: They love a good book.

Thankfully, at Pima County Public Library, there is no shortage of eager readers ready to regale them with a story, a snuggle  and a friend for life. 

Since launching in 2006 at the Himmel Park Library, the Read to a Dog Program has helped countless young customers improve their skills, increase their confidence and develop a love of reading. Over the past 10 years, the program has gained in popularity and is now held at 12 libraries with dozens of sessions offered every month.

Perhaps this is the part where you’re thinking, “Why would I want my child to read to a dog?” Well, it’s simple.

As nonjudgmental companions, dogs accept the story exactly as the child reads it. Canines don’t care about age or ability, so whether a child is enthusiastically describing pictures in their favorite storybook, or effortlessly moving through chapter books, the dog is hooked. I guess you could say they’re an easy audience.

When kids don’t feel pressure to get it right, they have the opportunity to experience stress-free reading. In turn, they learn to relax, have fun, and think of themselves as good readers. With increased confidence, kids become eager to seek out new books and practice even more. 

And that’s when the magic happens. Comfort, confidence and enthusiasm combine to create a lifelong love of reading.

Over the years, Read to a Dog has become a favorite among kids and parents alike. According to one mother, her daughter was reading on her own after attending the program at the Oro Valley Public Library for several months. At the Nanini Library, Loki, a Great Pyrenees, has loyal fans but usually attracts attention because of his sheer size and good nature.

Time and time again, we’ve been told how much this program means to our community. Parents share stories of formerly reluctant readers who are now first in line to greet dogs in the library lobby. For some, the benefit goes beyond reading. 

One little boy overcame his fear of dogs. After several months of attending the program, he’s now the first one in the door and can’t leave until he reads to all of them.

At the Murphy-Wilmot Library, a young customer tells us, “I love getting a Hershey Kiss when I read.” She’s not referring to chocolate, but a lick from Hershey, the faithful Chocolate Labrador Retriever. 

Another customer adds, “Sugar really liked the book I read. She didn’t fall asleep!” 

Kids find comfort reading to the dogs, and parents are thrilled to watch them. But the dogs enjoy it too. Recently at the Santa Rosa Library, a colleague of mine visited with Roscoe, a beautiful Chow and Boxer mix. 

She says, “Roscoe was in such bliss while I was petting him that when I stopped he put his huge paw on my leg to remind me that he was there.” 

Charles M. Schulz was spot on when he said “Happiness is a warm puppy.” We’d only make one addition… happiness is a warm puppy and books. 

For more information about the Read to a Dog program, please visit library.pima.gov or call 791-4010. 

Holly Schaffer is the Pima County Public Library’s Community Relations Manager.

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