About a dozen children joined three dogs at the Rockville Centre Public Library recently as part of a program designed to allow youngsters to read to their new canine friends, who calmly listened by their side.
“I really liked it because I love dogs and they’re my favorite animal, and I got to read to her,” 7-year-old Callum Stevenson said excitedly after reciting a book aloud to Chelsea, a 5-year-old, four-legged friend.
His twin sister, Cora, added: “I liked reading to Chelsea because she actually listens.”
The three therapy dogs came from Bideawee, in Wantagh, and are trained to be a supportive presence in schools, nursing homes, hospitals and around people that suffer from certain conditions, like anxiety. Ellen Fox, the library’s early childhood coordinator, said it decided to use the dogs’ qualities as a way to encourage reluctant readers to read to a non-intimidating partner.
“I think it helps kids become more comfortable reading out loud, because the dogs just love whatever they’re doing,” said Joan Kemnitzer, the handler for Buddy, an 11-year-old black Labrador retriever. “There’s no criticism and it’s nice that they can interact with the dog in a very positive way.”
The gathering was held in the Helen Kraus Room in the library’s basement, an expansive space that allowed the children to sprawl on the floor next to the dogs, who lay down next to them. Each reader chose from books of different reading levels — hand-selected by librarians — many of which were dog-themed.
Along with Chelsea and Buddy, among the children was Sadie Mae, a 7-year-old Australian shepherd and Great Pyrenees mix who was rescued from Kentucky by owner Judy Holtzman. Sadie came from Kentucky, Holtzman said, where kids had tied the dog to a stake and shot her with a BB Gun. A child surprised by the story showed Sadie extra affection.