PEI

More dogs coming to P.E.I. libraries as Paws to Read Expands

More Island children will soon have the opportunity to read aloud to dogs, as the Paws to Read program for elementary-age children with reading challenges is expanding to more P.E.I. libraries.

Kids with reading difficulties find reading to dogs 'very, very valuable'

Tully, pictured here with his sleepy brother Digby, will soon be working with kids in the Morell Library. (Submitted by PEI Public Library Service)

More Island children will soon have the opportunity to read aloud to dogs, as the Paws to Read program for elementary-age children with reading challenges is expanding to more P.E.I. libraries.

Paws to Read is coordinated through Therapeutic Paws of Canada, an organization that trains therapy pets and their owners for volunteer service work. It began on P.E.I. at the Charlottetown library in fall 2013 and will soon be offered in Stratford, Cornwall and Morell, P.E.I. 

I think it makes them feel really special, that somebody really cares about reading with them.— Roseanne Gauthier, librarian

"What I see is actually magical," Roseanne Gauthier, youth services librarian with the PEI Public Library Service. "The kids respond so strongly to the dogs." 

"When kids are reading to the dogs their worries about making mistakes and being judged for making mistakes kind of fades to the background," Gauthier said. "It starts to help make reading something that's a little bit happier."

Once a week for eight weeks, the dog, trainer and child find a quiet corner of the library to read several books after school. 

"I think it makes them feel really special, that somebody really cares about reading with them," Gauthier added. "We just really want to help kids with their self-confidence." 

'Bucko will encourage them'

Breeder Earla Moore and her shih tzu, Bucko, have been the sole canine Paws to Read volunteer team on P.E.I., until now. 

'Bucko will encourage them to read,' says Bucko's owner Earla Moore, shown here reading with Danyelle Chandler in 2015. (Submitted by PEI Public Library Service)

"We love to work with children," said Moore. "Bucko will encourage them to read."

"I'm Bucko's voice," explained Moore. "If they get stuck on a word, I help them out … maybe sound the word. It's time well spent."

'Dogs have a special place'

"It was amazing," enthused Leslie Kerwin-Jabbour, whose son Joseph, 8, took part in the program last fall.

Joseph Jabbour, Bucko and Earla Moore found a cosy nook to read last fall at the Confederation Centre library. (Submitted by PEI Public Library Service )

"The little dog would snuggle in or put his head or his paw on Joseph's leg or his arm to give him some encouragement," to keep reading when he was challenged by a word, said Kerwin-Jabbour. 

Bucko would even choose which book he most wanted to read, when Joseph presented him with several. 

"Dogs have a special place … they give that support that a lot of us sometimes are missing," Kerwin-Jabbour said, adding her son's reading skills and confidence have vastly improved. 

"That's a very magical moment, to see someone light up, to really put forth that effort … it's indescribable," she said of watching her son happily engage with the dog.

'Just scratching the surface'

Bucko and the new canine volunteers had to be trained first through Therapeutic Paws of Canada to work with adults, then evaluated as suitable to interact with children. 

Bucko and Michael Williams take a pause to read back in 2013 when the program started in P.E.I. (Submitted by PEI Public Library Service)

Eight more canine teams have now been trained and can lead Paws to Read, Moore said.

"Animal therapy — we're just scratching the surface, you know," said Moore. "It's very, very valuable and worthy, and I'm honoured and humbled to be able to do this work with the dogs." 

Bucko's daughter Evie is now also certified to work with youngsters, as are some of his other offspring, Moore said. 

Families interested in the free Paws to Read program in the communities of Stratford, Cornwall, Morell or Charlottetown can call or message the libraries, which will choose a suitable child from each to participate. The libraries will keep a waiting list in hopes of continuing the program. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara has worked with CBC News in P.E.I. since 1988, starting with television and radio before moving to the digital news team. She grew up on the Island and has a journalism degree from the University of King's College in Halifax. Reach her by email at sara.fraser@cbc.ca.

now