Therapy dog helps to build love of reading for Damascus children -- Gazette.Net


Most Wednesdays, Barbara Schmidt’s greyhound Zachy is ready and waiting near his leash.

“It’s like clockwork - he’ll get up and run over to the leash cabinet,” she said. “He seems to know when the therapy days are ... because otherwise he’s a couch potato.”

The 6-year-old former race dog spends more than an hour each Wednesday at the Damascus Library, where elementary-school-age children read to him.

Schmidt, of Damascus, said her dog is a certified therapy dog, participating in the library’s “Read to a Dog!” program.

Teaming the therapy dog with participating children, the program gives new readers a chance to practice reading aloud in short semi-private sessions to Zachy. The greyhound is one of five that Schmidt adopted, two of which are therapy certified.

Schmidt said the free program provides a nonthreatening reading environment for new and struggling readers, with licks of encouragement from the children’s new furry friend guiding them through previously missed or stumbled on words.

“I think [the program] has a very calming effect for him, me and the kids,” she said. “Nobody is here to judge them...It’s definitely a benefit for the [children].”

“There are a lot of children that don’t have the confidence to read out loud,” said Karen Miller, Damascus Library manager. “It makes them feel confident, strengthens their reading skills and makes them feel less self conscious.”

An average of seven children per week have taken the time to read to Zachy, who also provides pet therapy for residents at a local nursing home. The program started this spring and will run every week until Aug. 20. It will resume in the fall.

“The [community response] has been wonderful,” Miller said. “I’m really happy that Barbara and Zachy are our special friends every week.”

On Wednesday, with the temperature in the 80s, Mikayla Dorrer, 8, from Norton, Mass., read “On a Hot, Hot Day” to her new friend in the air conditioned story book room of the library.

Mikayla, who was visiting family in Damascus, said she picked the book by Niki Weiss to read for the obvious reason.

“Because it’s a hot day,” she said.

Stephanie Mokley Dorrer, Mikayla’s mother and a native of Damascus, said that they decided to participate in the program after seeing a sign about it during their library visit.

“[Mikayla] loves dogs, she loves all pets,” she said. “... [And] she likes to read.”

While Zachy didn’t move much as she was reading, Mikayla said she knows that he was paying attention to her.

“He put his ears up,” she said.

Ziona Young, 5, who also read to Zachy, said she would read to a dog again.

“It was fun,” she said.