“George’s mother said, ‘Bark, George.’ George said, ‘Meow.’” So a 6-year-old girl began reading aloud from a book at the Fair Haven branch library.
Another 6-year-old, named Daisy, could relate: She nodded and thumped her tail.
Daisy and her pal Rudy are two formally trained therapy dogs whose expertise is to hang out with kids who are learning to read.
The canine reading specialists came with their owner/handlers on their regular rounds to Fair Haven’s library Thursday afternoon .
Daisy is a sprightly combo of Golden Retriever and Standard Poodle. Rudy, a 13-year old German Shepherd mix, has the disposition of a Zen meditator.
A dozen kids like Columbus Family Academy 6-year-old Angely Jaramillo signed up for private sessions of about 10 minutes each with the dogs.
As opposed to service dogs that do specific tasks like guiding the blind, therapy dogs simply offer themselves, providing comfort and affection by their attentive presence. The dogs and their owners train through the Pet Partners program of the Delta Society.
Like a big, friendly goofball, Daisy stretched out with Angely and owner Allison Bullard beneath a sunlit window off the main reading room. Bullard, who is training to be an ESL teacher, occasionally asked a question of Angely who just kept on reading to an interested pooch.
The gag in the book is that George quacks and oinks making every animal sound but a dog’s. “She really likes cat sounds” best, Angely said of Daisy when she concluded.
Over in another corner of the reading room, Rudy was stretched out with her owner Megan Eaton. Natalie Gomez showed her book with its pictures to Rudy as a teacher might to a kid. She began to read: “King Tyler did not want to be king any more.”
“It’s awesome you can read upside down,” said Eaton as she rubbed Rudy’s chest and slipped her a tiny treat.
Branch librarian Betsy Goldberg said the therapy dogs’ visits are increasingly popular. “There’s so much pressure involved in learning to read in school.”
Daisy and Rudy, whose patience and loving gazes are solid for at least an hour in the library, offer unconditional acceptance and emotional support. “You don’t always get that in school,” she said.
For example, 6-year-old Zoe Burgand is in a mixed class of kindergarteners and first graders at the Cold Spring School. Her mom said that she’s big for being a kindergartener. With the smaller kids reading better than she can, Zoe is sometimes nervous about reading aloud.
But she wasn’t nervous when she read Sammy the Seal by Syd Hoff to Daisy. Daisy didn’t correct her pronunciation. When she finished with her turn, Zoe stood and said, “I read to the dog. The dog liked the seal. She licked me and she was poking the pages.”
The service is completely free, provided by Bullard and Eaton, who both got their animals certified at Paws and Effect, a dog training center in Hamden. Their training was six to eight weeks long, and included learning how to focus on clients, not cavort with each other, or startle. One exercise, for example, involved clanging pots and pans near the dogs, as they might hear in a hospital.
Then their temperaments and training are certified by the American Kennel Club.
Rudy recently retired from her gig at an assisted living facility in East Haven. Eaton said she’s finishing out her career with kids. She’s great pals with Daisy but they barely acknowledged each other until the session was over. That’s also in the training.
Last week, Goldberg said the dogs gave the kids a special thrill by shaking paws with the kid readers after each book was finished.
Goldberg said word of the program has gotten out: A third therapy dog called, or rather its owner did. Goldberg is trying to arrange for the program with the new dog on Saturdays. The dogs read with kids at the Mitchell Library last summer.
In addition to their gig at the Fair Haven library, the dogs give an hour a week to adjacent Fair Haven School students who are struggling with reading. There Bullard said Daisy recently worked with one particular child who has attention deficit hyperactive disorder. Recently the child laid out five or six books on Daisy’s back and read as they moved around the room together.
Daisy and Rudy are at the Fair Haven Library every Thursday from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.