Paws to Read pairs dogs with early readers

Paws to Read pairs dogs with early readers
Amelia Hislop, 7, of Oceanside, reads to Baron. Photo by Promise Yee

OCEANSIDE — The Mission Branch Library conference room was set up with a rack of books and colorful floor cushions for young readers on Wednesday. Listening partners sat close by or lay on their back with legs in the air.

Pet therapy dogs Kiwi, Victoria and Baron partnered with young readers to provide an affectionate audience for kids to practice word-decoding skills.

The Paws to Read program is held monthly at the Mission Branch Library and Civic Center Library. About a dozen kids under age 10 attend the program.

Valerie Martinez, 6, of Oceanside, has been participating ever since she started to read a year ago.

“Kids love reading to the dogs, parents enjoy having an opportunity for their kids to practice reading without the pressure of peers,” Lisa Ferneau-Haynes, senior librarian of youth services, said.

The goal of the program is to have one-on-one dog and child reading partners. When there is a high turn out of readers, kids take turns reading a page of a book to a listening dog.

Mary Gleisberg, Love on a Leash San Diego North County Coastal chapter leader, said the Paws to Read program takes place year round, and draws more readers in the summer.

“It’s really motivating,” Gleisberg said.

Love on a Leash volunteer Beverly Hodges said she has been participating in the program with her dogs for 18 years.

On Wednesday she brought Kiwi to listen. The therapy dog snuggled between Hodges and the reader while the book was read.

Hodges said kids warm up to dogs quickly, and gain confidence in their literacy skills. Most read to the dogs. Pre-readers explain what is happening in the book’s pictures.

“Dogs don’t correct them,” Hodges said.

Dogs in the program are certified pet therapy dogs that have passed a canine good citizen test, and been observed with their handler on at least 10 visits

Once dogs are certified, owners volunteer their time to participate.

“We can’t thank them enough, interaction with animals is a positive thing,” Ferneau-Haynes said. “The community really appreciates it.”

Paws to Read is held at 2 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month at the Civic Center Library, and third Wednesday of the month at the Mission Branch Library.

The program also takes place at other city libraries under different names including Encinitas Doggie Tales, and San Marcos Read With Malu and Mowgli.

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