May 31, 2013
Tales to Tails: Therapy dogs help youngsters
with their reading skills at Hatteras Library
By LYNNE FOSTER
was recently taken aback by the sight of a dog bowl and a bag of treats
placed on a colorful, neatly folded dog mat in the Hatteras
“What is a dog bowl doing here?” I wondered
aloud. Helen Hudson, the library manager, stopped what she was
doing to tell me all about the library’s newest venture.
Ever innovative, the Dare County Library has introduced a new pilot program this summer at the Hatteras Library.
to Tails is designed to assist young readers gain confidence and
improve not only their reading skills but also their enjoyment of books
with the assistance of therapy dogs.
Jan Willis, Dare County’s
first kindergarten teacher and the teacher who gave most of our
islanders their start in reading, is now a library volunteer and she is
assisting her delightful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Contessa -- or
“Tessa” in this initiative.
Tessa loves children, relishes
attention, and sits quietly listening to stories, so she is the perfect
audience. Plus she has the best long ears for listening!
She enjoys stories that are read at any speed so the child doesn’t have
to feel a need to keep up any particular pace.
to the Dare County Library, “... a study done by the University of
California/Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, reading to dogs helped
children increase their reading fluency by up to 30 percent.
Reading speeds were also increased by up to 30 words per minute.
After the study, 75 of the parents reported that their children were
reading aloud more frequently and with more confidence.”
course, this is impressive but what I saw and heard recently at one of
the therapy dog sessions was much more uplifting than statistics.
charming 7-year-old boy with a wide grin and a touch of the clown in
his personality was reading with exuberance and emotion, thoroughly
enjoying the stories he helped select and relishing Tessa’s excellent
The weekly program is adapted to the child’s needs
and personality, and today he was sharing reading time with Ms. Jan as
they made their way through two books from the “We Both Read”
series. He seemed to really like sharing. He followed the
stories and was quick to remind Ms. Jan when it was her turn. As
he read aloud and, in turn, listened to Ms. Jan, he absentmindedly
stroked Tessa or gently twisted the silky fur on her ears.
Willis believes that a child’s reading experience is enhanced by the
feeling of being close to someone who is reading to you, and the
library provides squishy bean-bag chairs that can be pushed
together. This also provides a place where the young reader can
lounge and get comfortable. Much better than stiff chairs!
How many of us sit upright in a hard chair when we read?
bonus in Ms. Jan’s eyes is this youngster’s discovery of the library as
an inviting and friendly place to be. He observes people coming
and going with books and hears people talking about books. Staff
and patrons alike welcome him and ask what he is reading. Ms. Jan
believes, “This nurtures that love of reading and library use that
stays with someone forever.”
When I asked the young man if he
likes reading more now than before he started the sessions with Tessa,
he beamed and nearly shouted, “Yeah!” His friend had come
into the library earlier and he exclaimed to him, “I get to come and
read to Tessa every week!” He told me about a long list of words
that he was given that morning and bragged, “I read the whole
As we observed a patron with an armful of books, he proudly proclaimed, “My mom reads lots of them.”
Ms. Jan has seen “great improvement” in his reading skills and his interest in books and his mother echoed the sentiment.
mother couldn’t be more pleased with Tales to Tails. “He is
having break-through moments, building confidence and gaining
enthusiasm and a willingness to read.”
Coming to the library
provides “a releasing moment for him, giving him the ability to relax
and be uninhibited.” She arrived to pick him up after the session
and wasn’t aware that it was a “We Both Read” day so I found it very
encouraging that she told me that one thing that is helping with his
success is his response to what she called a “Let’s do it together
The library manager, Helen Wilson, better
known to all as Ms. Helen, is herself a former preschool teacher.
She believes Tales to Tails is “empowering.” She is very pleased
that the library is able to provide this experience because “We can see
the light bulb going on!”
She notes the biggest gain for the
young reader is relaxation --thanks in no small part to Tessa’s
presence -- but she also credits Ms. Jan who “has the ability to guide
him where he needs to be guided. She is an outstanding
His mother believes that “his success is due
to this program. It is a priceless gift that Jan and Tessa have
That is really good to hear but the library staff, Ms. Jan, and Tessa just love it that “He is always happy to come.”
note: The Dare County Libraries do not allow the release of a
child’s name. In this case, his mother signed a release for
publication of his photo.)
is a certified therapy dog, registered with Pet Partners and she is the
first active “tail” in Tales to Tails. The Kill Devil Hills
branch has recruited volunteer therapy dogs and now awaits young
readers who can benefit from this experience. Manteo is expected
to begin participation next year.
The Tales to Tails reading
sessions are by appointment only. It is designed for young
children in grades K through 5 who need a little individual help to
improve their reading skills or their confidence in reading.
Helen Hudson in Hatteras at 986-2385 or Kathy at the Kill Devil
Hills Branch, 441-4331, or discuss with your child’s teachers or the
school’s media coordinator who can make a referral.
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