Cuddled up to the very furry Flynn on the floor of the Mount Airy Branch of the Carroll County Public Library, 4-year-old Laura Humphrey quietly read "Rime to Read" to her new canine companion Sunday afternoon. Flynn, a 2-year-old Great Pyrenees and Australian shepherd mix, is a member of the Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services program.
"As a beginning reader, it's great to practice her skills on animals rather than having mom or dad nag her," said Laura's mother, Vicki Humphrey, of Mount Airy. "This is our second time. She's been practicing reading to her stuffed animals and has been excited all week, planning which books to bring to the dogs."
According to Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services volunteer Karen Durilla, KPETS is a nonprofit volunteer network of registered pet therapy teams who provide comfort, encouragement and rehabilitation to the community through human-animal interaction. The organization, headquartered in Lancaster, Pa., partnered with the library a few years ago to enhance children's reading skills.
"As a child, I hated to read. If I had been able to read to a dog, it would have changed the game. It's not high pressure like school: The kids feel like they're entertaining the dogs," Durilla said.
Branch manager Patty Sundberg said KPETS visits the library once a month and has been a great success.
"A lot of kids have a really hard time with their reading. One of the nice things about reading to dogs is that they don't judge you. It gives you confidence. If you mispronounce a word, they don't care," Sundberg said.
Flynn's owner Melissa Moore said volunteering with the program has been great for her and her dog.
"I love reading with the kids and seeing how they open up to the dogs," Moore said. "Some kids are really nervous talking to people, but they're more than happy to read to the dogs."
Stephanie Roberts, of Mount Airy, said the program was helpful to her children, Leni, 3, Cash, 5, and Aven, 6.
"The kids ask for it every time we come. The handlers are great. Each time they come, they help my kids finish a book," Roberts said.