Dogs are all ears at Pasco library’s youth reading program

Published January 3

HOLIDAY — Thursday at 4:30 p.m. is a standing work date at the Centennial Park Library for Shorty, a Welsh corgi-border collie mix and certified therapy dog that’s part of a childrens’ reading program*.

He appears to be all ears when it comes time to listening to Daniel Buckman, 9, and Mason Starnes, 7, read aloud from books they’ve picked from the library shelves. And he’s more than eager to reward the Anclote Elementary students for practicing their reading skills by rolling over a couple of times on command, eliciting giggles and gentle pats before the next kid steps up to take a turn.

"We’re here every week. We just love coming here," said Mason’s mom, Wendy Starnes. "We just have a cat at home, so we really love seeing the dogs."

As for Shorty, he loves coming to the library too, according to his owner and handler, Rose Metz.

"He gets all excited when he sees me grabbing my reading bag," Metz said. "He knows he’s coming to work, and of course some of that is because he gets treats for tricks. It’s fun."

She said it’s especially great for the kids — particularly reluctant readers. "You get children who come in and they’re afraid to read and you tell them he’ll do a trick for them and then they want to read."

After story sharing with Shorty, there’s an opportunity to sidle up to a toy poodle named Sara, or a Chihuahua named Munchkin. The two therapy dogs alternate weeks listening to kids read at the library with their owner and handler, Diane Frost.

"They’re just so cute," said Gabriel Connor, 8, after reading Sara a book called Baby Shoes.

The program is a definite draw that can inspire even the most reluctant reader to become an avid page turner, said library assistant, Cindy Benson, as kids read to canines in a library reading room that was recently dedicated to therapy dog handler Jane Colin, who passed away in April.

"We’ve gained dogs, we’ve lost dogs over the years, but no matter what, the kids always show up. Whether they are shy or have trouble reading, as long as the dogs are there, they will read," she said.

Frost was one of the original handlers to start the read-to-dogs program at the Centennial Park Library. After seeing the results over the years, she isn’t inclined to stop anytime soon.

"It’s amazing to watch the kids come out of their shell," she said after finishing up a book with Mason. "The dogs don’t judge. They don’t correct. They don’t laugh if a word is mispronounced."

"They just listen," Mason, said with a grin.

Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52.

* EDITORS NOTE: This story has been edited to show that the dogs and owners participating in the Centennial Park Library read-to-dogs program are affiliated with Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs Inc., and Therapy Dogs International.