Children can practice reading to furry friends at Grapevine library

Posted Monday, Apr. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information R.E.A.D with a Furry Friend Where: Grapevine Public Library, 1201 Municipal Way When: Offered once a month, usually the last Sunday. Contact: Call 817-410-3405 to schedule a time.

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On a recent Sunday, Mady Harrison read at the Grapevine Library to Daisy, who listened with all ears.

“I’m dyslexic, but I don’t mind reading to this cute little black dog,” the 9-year-old said of the blue-heeler mix that is a certified therapy dog.

Mady is one of dozens of kids who have participated in the library’s R.E.A.D. to a Furry Friend program, a winning combination of kids, dogs and literacy.

She chose to read Murphy Jumps a Hurdle because it is about a dog “and I knew the dog would like it,” the home-schooled Grapevine fourth-grader said.

Each month, usually on the last Sunday, the library sponsors R.E.A.D. to a Furry Friend. The free program allows children, especially those who have reading difficulties or are shy, to read to man’s (and child’s) best friend.

Toward that end, the Grapevine Library has teamed with two owners of therapy dogs to allow students to practice reading in front of the canines — a truly non-judgmental audience.

The idea is that a child feels less stress and anxiety when reading aloud to a dog than to their peers.

Mady’s maternal grandmother, Jan Ice, said the program is “a win-win for everybody.”

“Mady doesn’t feel competition when she reads to a dog,” her grandmother said. “It’s safer and more comfortable. Animals are non-threatening. It’s a great way for kids who are having trouble reading to feel special.”

“And who doesn’t love dogs!” the Keller woman said.

Heather Worsley of Grapevine has been a devoted fan of the program since its 2011 inception.

She first brought her daughter Acacia, now 9, to help with her reading problems. Her son, James, now 6, had not started reading, but participated by listening to the dog’s owner read to the dog.

They come every month and now both children are reading comfortably.

“It’s something they look forward to,” Worsley said.

James likes to read to Audi, a greyhound, “because he’s my favorite dog.”

Acacia, who chose The Dream Jar that afternoon, prefers Daisy because “she’s very playful and listens well.”

The program is offered by Cheryl Woolnough and her dog Audi and Nancy Strack and her dog Daisy.

Woolnough, an English teacher at Jesuit Catholic High School in Dallas and a dog trainer, was involved in a similar program through the Irving library system when the Grapevine Library staff asked her to join them.

She met Strack through Dog Scouts of America and the Grapevine reading program took off.

Strack said the program helps children, especially those with learning disabilities, uncover self-confidence.

“Daisy is the perfect tutor,” Strack, a paralegal, said of the 12-year-old rescue dog. “She loves kids. They bring her personality out. It’s the perfect job for her.”

Another benefit is that a child who is not comfortable around dogs gets a chance to react with a calm therapy animal in a positive setting.

Woolnough said Audi’s story could be the subject of a book. He was a longtime racetrack dog whose career ended when he was diagnosed with Lupus.

In 2007, Woolnough’s youngest graduated from high school and left her with empty nest syndrome.

She decided to adopt a rescue greyhound.

When she saw Audi at a “meet and greet” sponsored by the Greyhound Adoption League of Texas, the dog cradled his head against her.

“There was something special about him,” she said. “I think of it and he does it. I don’t even have to ask.”

She later learned about a group called Therapy Dogs International and knew Audi was meant for more than a pet. She began training and a year later, on their first try, they passed their therapy certification test.

Woolnough said Audi gets excited on library days. Skittish of children at first because he had never been exposed to them as a race dog, he now listens to them attentively and patiently.

“Dogs are a nonjudgmental audience that allow students to practice reading while associating reading with something pleasant,” she said.

Reading out loud is good for improving comprehension, Woolnough said. And the dog will not make fun of the reader if he or she makes mistakes.

Parents say they see a positive difference in their children’s reading abilities and confidence.

“It’s definitely helped,” said Rebecca Harrison, Mady’s mother.

Strack said the program is not just beneficial for the children. It gives dog owners a chance to give back to the community.

“It gives me satisfaction, especially when I see the kids’ reading improve,” she said.

Ice, who Mady calls Nana, agreed, saying, “What a great library to let the dogs in.”

The program is offered at the library at 1201 Municipal Way. Children sign up ahead of time or on reading day, with slots filled fast. Call 817-410-3405 to schedule a time.

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