Nfld. & Labrador

Book best friends: Library offering therapy dogs to encourage young readers

It's not always easy to get children to sit down and pick up a book, but one library is hoping a furry audience will be just the encouragement they need to start their next read.

Kids will soon be able to read to dogs in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's

Elizabeth Tucker reads while service dog Dakota calmly sits nearby during a trial run for the Paws 4 Stories program at the Portugal Cove-St. Philip's library. (Maggie Gillis)

It's not always easy to get children to sit down and pick up a book, but the library in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's is hoping a furry audience will be just the encouragement they need.

The library is introducing a new program, called "Paws 4 Stories," in which kids will be given the opportunity to read to a therapy dog for 15 minutes a week.

It's something that librarian Elyse Sparkes Coombs — who ran a similar program while working in Halifax — says can make kids more comfortable readers.

Isaac and Amelia Martin read to St. John Ambulance therapy dog Abby. (Maggie Gillis/CBC)

"I had phenomenal transformations. When we started the program, I had children who wouldn't read out loud, wouldn't read period, and sat there for the 15 minutes," she said.

"They start to like books, they like reading, and they become really good solid readers, which is just so important.".

Dogs are great listeners

The great thing about having a dog for a reading buddy is that they listen, but don't judge.

"You get to talk to a dog, who's not going to correct you if you stumble over a word, or if you're unsure of a word, or if you make up the story instead of sticking to the book," said Sparkes Coombs

Elyse Sparkes Coombs first heard of the Paws for Stories program while working in Halifax and decided to help bring it to the library she transferred to in Portugal Cove-St. Phillip's. (Maggie Gillis/CBC)

Reading to dogs was an idea that was started by the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs program in conjunction with local libraries in other parts of Canada. 

Paws 4 Stories has been in the trial stage in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, and will officially begin Sept. 19.

Six spaces are available for the first round of the program, which will include one session per week for six weeks. Contact the library directly to apply.

With files from the St. John's Morning Show and Maggie Gillis