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A Dog’s Life:Being Read to by Children in the Library 4.26.2006

By Christine Cote

COURT HOUSE – The county library isn’t going to the dogs – the dogs are coming to it.
They won’t be taking out books, but they will have their ears perked up as children read them stories on the fourth Monday of each month from May through August at the main branch here.
The program is R.E.A.D., Reading Education Assistance Dogs, and is being sponsored by the library in conjunction with the Cape May County Dog Obedience Club.
Library Director Andrew Martin told library commissioners April 19 that Librarian Angela Plagge observed this program at the Vineland Public Library. Children read to dogs and it helps those who are hesitant to read, he said.
The group is fully insured, he said, and will supply proof and records of shots for every dog.
Carolyn Wilson, president of the county Dog Obedience Club, told the Herald Monday that the club, through one of its members, Judy Nuss, has already done the R.E.A.D. program at Sandman Consolidated School in Lower Township.
Nuss, a special education teacher, brings her “westie” Sophie to school, said Wilson, and “the kids just love it.”
The dog walks in, lays down, and “says read to me,” Wilson said. “The kids get so involved they don’t realize they have finished a book.”
She and other club members also saw the program in action in Vineland and were amazed at how well it worked and are excited and can’t wait to get it started here.
Anita Lupcho, community relations coordinator for the Vineland library, told the Herald last week that she read an article about R.E.A.D. in 2003 and thought it would make a great photo opportunity.
“Because I deal with the media,” she said, that’s what she thinks about and that was her reason for suggesting the idea.
It was first presented there in November 2003, said Lupcho, and it was “like a zoo” with “media from all over, parents taking pictures,” more than she had imagined.
With all that going on, Lupcho said, as she sat with a child who was reading to her dog, she looked around and every single child was focusing on the book and the dog and paid no attention to the commotion.
That’s when she realized, said Lupcho, “this isn’t about publicity, it’s about literacy.”
The R.E.A.D. program was introduced in November 1999 in the Salt Lake City Library as the inspiration of Sandi Martin, a registered nurse and board member of Intermountain Therapy Animals.
She saw it as a natural outgrowth from other companion services therapy dogs had demonstrated in hospitals, school, detention and care facilities, according to the program’s Web site. It has been used in schools and libraries since that time, bringing children and therapy dogs together to build reading skills and encourage literacy.
Wilson’s group visits Crest Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center with its therapy dogs once a month. It also visits Court House Convalescent and Rehab Center.
The county club dogs have to satisfy standards of the Bright and Beautiful organization to wear the therapy dog label, said Wilson. These include:
_ Allow someone to come up and brush them.
_ Tolerate being handled by strangers.
_ Ignore other dogs and trainers that come up to it.
_ Not react negatively to wheelchairs or crutches.
_ Not respond negatively to noisy behavior or loud noises.
To be a R.E.A.D. dog, a certificate from Intermountain is required. Part of that process is to review a book from it and then answer questions, which are related to how a trainer would react or control situations with the child who is reading, said Wilson.
The Vineland program has been a continual success, said Lupcho. Her facility advertises for six- to 12-year-olds to come the one night a month it is offered. Although that’s the target age, they don’t turn anyone away, she said.
The last time it was offered earlier this month, 78 children participated, she said. Adults from the Vineland Development Center also have come to join in the activity.
Lupcho is one of the trainers and works with readers along with her Bichon Frise, Genta. She said Vineland generally has nine dogs show up each time.
Along with a therapy certification, each dog must pass the canine good citizen test given by the American Kennel Club, said Lupcho.
The animals must obey sit, stay and leave it commands, she said. They must also walk nicely on a leash and are always on a leash and with a trainer for the program, she said.
Her library runs the program for an hour and half and with 72 kids and 9 dogs that’s only about 10 minutes apiece. Lupcho said that they “play it by ear,” and one child could get a bit more time than another.
The county library here is asking everyone to register at 6 p.m. on May 22, June 26, July 24 and Aug. 28.
Often it’s not just about reading, it’s about comprehension said Lupcho.
If a child starts reading too fast, she will tell the child, Genta has a question, then place her ear to the dog’s face and repeat the question to the child.
The first time she does it, the child may be a bit taken aback, said Lupcho. Then most buy right into it. “It calms them down,” she said and they start to read slower.
American Bulldogs, handled by a local vet, a cocker spaniel, a greyhound and a German Shepard have all taken part in Vineland’s program and “we have never had a problem,” said Lupcho.
Children will get a chance to read to Sophie and another “westie” Eddie; Frolic a rottweiler; Britta, a Rhodesian ridgeback; Monty and Roxy, both Dachshunds; Flash and Bonnie, both shelties; Brody, a golden retriever, Ruby, an American Staffordshire terrier; and, Tri-lee, an American cocker spaniel.
In their training, the dogs are alerted to gaze at the book with a command of “look” and a treat is placed in a book to reinforce this training, said Lupcho.
But to the young readers, it looks like the dog is looking at the pages or reading along. That’s part of the success.
 Contact Cote at (609) 886-8600 Ext 31 or: ccote@cmcherald.com

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