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.
- 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.
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.