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Therapy Dogs in the Library: A Pawsitive Experience

Once a month, the Calabasas Library opens it doors to trained therapy dogs. Families and children sign up for their own one-on-one time to quite literally read with dogs. It’s one of the most beloved programs at the library, a partnership built over a decade. Last year, when the library celebrated its 20th anniversary, the therapy dogs were there during the festivities. Of course they were, they are a part of the library community.

Why Therapy Dogs for Literacy?

The idea of using therapy dogs for literacy is not new. The program the Calabasas Library uses, Pet Partners, was founded in 1977 and provides millions of trained therapy animal visits a year across a variety of settings. It’s their “Read To Me” literacy program, however, that the Calabasas Library utilizes.

Read To Me was founded on the idea that children’s literacy can benefit from trained therapy animals. David E. Williams at Pet Partners cites research that shows therapy dogs can:

  • reduce stress around reading
  • increase a child’s confidence while reading aloud

Williams states, “Children are often hesitant, embarrassed, or shy about their reading abilities…the presence of a calm, well-trained dog offers a unique form of social support, stress reduction and enhanced self-esteem to the adolescent reader. Children felt at ease around the dog who was there just to listen to the story and not to judge how well he or she was reading.”

How It Works

While every library is different, Calabasas has found a system that works well for its patrons and therapy animals.

On the first Saturday of the month, trained therapy dogs come to the public library for two hours. Families can sign up for a 15-minute slot to read with dogs. This sign-up sheet is only available that day to ensure as many patrons as possible utilize the program.

The children’s reading room is set aside for the program to give children the ability to have a one-on-one experience with animals. During their time slot, children and families go to the reading room. Typically the family sits nearby while the child reads to the dogs.

Feedback and challenges

Jill Nevins, children’s library specialist at Calabasas Library, reports that feedback on the program has only been positive. The people who own and train the dogs are enthusiastic and communicative, the dogs love being around the children, and the children benefit from reading aloud to a trained therapy animal. Patrons look forward to the event, and create bonds with specific therapy dogs.

The only challenge she noted is a challenge of many public library programs—how to ensure as many people as possible in the community know about and utilize the program.

How to Get Started

Getting involved is simple and free! On the Pet Partners website you can submit a volunteer opportunity, customizing it to your library and its needs. It is then your library’s responsibility to find and schedule volunteers that work with your organization.

If you’re looking for a way to boost children’s literacy (and add some furry friends to your library) this partnership is for you.

Works Cited

Nevins, Jill. Personal interview. 7 February 2019.

 

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: III. Programming Skills and V. Outreach and Advocacy.

Jillian Denning is a librarian at Wildwood Elementary School in Los Angeles, CA. She serves on the ALSC Building Partnerships Committee.

3 comments

  1. Taylor Domenick

    I’m starting a therapy dog reading program this Spring, but I’m trying to figure out the best way for people to register for time slots with the dogs. I know you wrote that you have the sign up sheet only available on the day of the program, but do you have people sign up in person, online, or over the phone? Thanks!

    1. Elizabeth Serrano

      Hi Taylor!

      Our Building Partnerships Committee has stated that Calabasas has people register in person the day of the event. Good luck!

      Elizabeth

  2. Victoria Hanley

    We offer R.E.A.D. at the Land O”Lake’s Library in LOL FL. We offer advance signup for a 15 min slot. Our READ team is in the library 3 days a week; an hour for appointments and most days extra interaction time. I have found that even with automated reminders through our calendar system we have no shows. If someone is 5 min late we take a child who is interested and already in the Children’s Room. The presence of the dog usually attracts both regular and new readers.

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