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Read-to-a-dog programs a new thing at Hernando County libraries

Specially trained therapy dogs help youngsters grow their reading skills.

SPRING HILL — Tuesday is reading day for a friendly golden retriever named Turbo. For the past few months, he’s had a standing date with youngsters waiting to share a book with him in a study room at the Spring Hill/Harold G. Zopp Memorial Library.

Typically, the kids’ selections are about dogs, said Turbo’s owner, Rita Spillers. But he’s fair game for whatever they pick.

“It’s fun, and he enjoys it,” she said. “Once I put the vest on, he knows he going to work, and he gets all excited."

Turbo went through special training and is certified with Alliance Therapy Dogs. He also visits local hospice patients with Spillers.

Sometimes Turbo appears to be reading alongside the children, putting a gentle paw on the pages from time to time. Sometimes he lays his head in a lap, sopping up the attention as the child reads a chapter or two in a 15-minute, one-on-one session.

Spillers, a retired elementary school teacher, said she enjoys the visits, as well.

A golden retriever named Turbo has been come a welcome visitor and part of a new reading program at the Spring Hill/Harold G. Zopp Memorial Library. Here, he gets a welcoming pat from Andrea Bonham (left) as his owner, Rita Spillers, looks on.
A golden retriever named Turbo has been come a welcome visitor and part of a new reading program at the Spring Hill/Harold G. Zopp Memorial Library. Here, he gets a welcoming pat from Andrea Bonham (left) as his owner, Rita Spillers, looks on. [ MICHELE MILLER | Times ]

"Sometimes I get to read a little, too,” she said. She often brings a book that explains to youngsters the difference between therapy dogs and service dogs, which are trained to assist people with disabilities .

“You’re not supposed to pat a working service dog,” she said. “You are supposed to pat a therapy dog.”

The reading dog program is new to the Spring Hill library and one of several programs launched at Hernando library branches. A collie named Jesse reads with children at the main library in Brooksville and the West Hernando branch.

The library offers programs for all ages. Ukulele classes, a Dungeons and Dragons group, Tai Chi, yoga, watercolor painting, anime and gaming are among the popular draws, said library experience coordinator Sheryl Fell.

“There’s a lot that people don’t know that we do,” she said.

Abby Shipley, who homeschools her children, Ari, 5, and Jett, 3, visits various branches weekly for art and reading programs that enhance her curriculum. Her children do not have access to a home computer, she said, but are learning computer skills in the children’s section at the library.

Ari Shipley, 5, reacts to getting a friendly nuzzle from a therapy dog named Turbo during a special new reading program at the Spring Hill/Harold G. Zopp Memorial Library.
Ari Shipley, 5, reacts to getting a friendly nuzzle from a therapy dog named Turbo during a special new reading program at the Spring Hill/Harold G. Zopp Memorial Library. [ MICHELE MILLER | Times ]

“The library is a lot different now," she said, adding that when she was a kid, it was “just books and the Dewey Decimal System.”

Now her kids can check out a backpack of science, technology, engineering and math activities or learning tablets, along with their books.

Her children’s reading skills have improved since they started reading to Turbo in August, Shipley said. On a recent day, Ari brought a few early reading books to read, while Jett brought a book about trucks, planes and spaceships, so he could show Turbo the pictures.

A golden retriever named Turbo has become a much loved visitor and part of a new reading program for kids at the Spring Hill/Harold G. Zopp Memorial Library.
A golden retriever named Turbo has become a much loved visitor and part of a new reading program for kids at the Spring Hill/Harold G. Zopp Memorial Library. [ MICHELE MILLER | Times ]

“It really helps their confidence,” she said.

“What do you like about reading to Turbo?” she asked her daughter as they wrapped up their reading session.

“I like that after I read I get to snuggle,” Ari said, with a smile.

For information about Hernando County Library programs or to register to read with a reading dog, go to hernandocountylibrary.us.

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