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.
Amy Patterson, of New Market, sat with her children, Chase, 2, Cecilia, 6, and C.J., 7, as they read to the dogs. C.J. enthusiastically read "Go Dog Go" by P.D. Eastman to Flynn.
"They really listen to you. I feel good reading to them," C.J. said.
Ruthie Davi, of Mount Airy, said the program provided a unique opportunity for her 6-year-old daughter Lizzie.
"Where else can you read to a dog?" she asked.
Lizzie affably read "Little Lucy Goes to School" by Ilene Cooper to Durilla's dog Buddy, a 6-year-old border collie and greyhound mix.
"He's so calm and not bitey. Buddy is a good listener. I think he liked the story," Lizzie said.
Emily, 6, practiced her reading skills with volunteer Georgeanne Trummert and her dog Dempsey, a 2-year-old dachshund and Lhasa apso mix.
"This is our first time at BooKPETS," said Emily's mother, Natalie Ray, of Mount Airy. "We have dogs at home, so it's a good way to combine her love of pets with her love of reading."
Later in the afternoon, 8-year-old Sophia Blanchard read Jack London's "Call of the Wild" to an all-ears Dempsey.
"I think it was making him hungry because I was reading the part about food," Sophia, of Mount Airy, said. "I've never read to a dog before. Maybe I'll try reading to my dog."
If you go
Read to a Dog Friend
6:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14
North Carroll Branch Library
Read to a puppy from the Carroll County 4-H Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Program. For ages 4 to 12.
Read with a Furry Friend
1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16
Westminster Branch Library
Practice your reading skills by reading and relaxing with a dog! KPETS will bring a variety of breeds, each one a terrific listener. For ages 4 to 17.
PAWS to Read
2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23
Eldersburg Branch Library
Come to the library and read a story to a book-loving dog. Struggling readers are encouraged to participate. For ages 5 to 17.
2 p.m Sunday, Feb. 7