Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Chou Chou the Therapy Dog at the Library

Chou Chou and I have continued our animal assisted therapy work in libraries that offer Read to the Dogs programs once a month. 

The parents say that their children are self-conscious at home about practicing their reading out loud; but they love reading to the dogs: they know the dogs are non-judgmental. Chou Chou's new library friends come back every month to read and hug her.

At one library event, we sat down and Chou got comfortable. Then another team -- a man with a great dane named Mobley -- came over and sat alongside Chou; this dog weighs more than I do. I thought Chou might be frightened, but she sniffed the big dog, he sniffed her, and they both relaxed.

Some of the older children bring over books that are a hundred pages, or longer. They start from the beginning of the book and keep going. ("I like to snuggle with the children, but sometimes I do not like their books. I prefer picture books!")

Meanwhile, there may be a line of children waiting to read to Chou Chou. 

One little girl looked forlorn as she waited and waited for her turn. A young teenage boy (who came in with his girlfriend) read to Chou Chou from Twilight Saga. Eventually, the librarian came over and politely asked the boy with the really, really long book if he would mind changing dogs, so the other children who were waiting could have a turn with Chou Chou. ("I am a very popular puppy!")

But Chou Chou is not always perfectly behaved. While older dogs (some labrador retrievers and golden setters) fall asleep during the reading, Chou Chou is alert and interested. She might put her paw on the children's books, or give a puppy bow and a bark to the little cavalier king spaniel not far from her. ("I know I should use my library voice!") Or she might sniff a child's jacket. ("Oui! I am involved!")

I have been impressed with the reading competence of many of these children. The library visits are more than playtime with dogs. I read along with the children and if they come to a word they can't read or don't understand, I help them. 

After teaching child psychology to university students for many years, working with the kids directly is a pleasure. ("Oui! I didn't go to the college much, but I can do this with my pawrent!")

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