Dogs drop in to library to lend an ear to young readers

Two lovable Labradors will be lending their ears to young readers from this month (January).

3.	Dora gets her nose into a good book as Morgan looks on

Read2Dogs sessions are to be launched at Selby library to help children improve their confidence as readers by sharing books with Dora and Morgan, two Pets as Therapy dogs that will visit the library with their owners, Rachael and Tony Wilson, of Selby.

Outreach librarian Alison Tutill, who is behind the introduction of the scheme at the library, explained: “Read2Dogs has been shown to help children develop literacy skills and confidence, through the calming effect of the dog’s presence on children and because the dog will listen to the children read without being judgemental. This comforting environment helps to nurture children’s enthusiasm for reading and provides them with the confidence needed to read aloud.”

A drop-in session with Dora and Morgan will be held at the library on Saturday, 11 January, from 10am to noon, but people can visit at any time to find out more. After 11 January, sessions will be held on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month in the library. People will be able to book 15-minute slots, which are open to children of any age and adults with learning difficulties.

Dora and Morgan, who are both about seven years old, are rescue dogs from Serbia. Rachael didn’t think she could have a dog because of her cat, not to mention her pet rats. But she saw a Facebook post about Dora being in need of a home at short notice and told Tony, who said “let’s take a look”. They did, fell in love with Dora and gave her a home.

That was about two years ago. A year later, Morgan arrived from Serbia. He had been abused, beaten around the head, and still bears the scars if you look closely. But he’s just as friendly, calm and loveable as Dora.

Rachael said: “Therapy dogs was something I’d always been interested in doing. It so happened that our local dog group, Paws for Pals, was organising a group of therapy dogs to visit care homes, hospitals, nurseries and schools. I put my name down straightaway.

“Both Dora and Morgan passed their Pets as Therapy assessments with flying colours. The assessor was super impressed and couldn’t believe how good they were for rescue dogs.”

Alison was aware of the Read2Dogs scheme, which originated in the United States, and was keen to try it in the library. A chance conversation with a library customer who was involved in Paws for Pals led to the current scheme.

“I asked whether Pets as Therapy might do the Read2Dogs scheme and it went from there,” said Alison. “We met Rachael and Morgan and Dora and registered with the scheme and we’re ready to go with it.”

Selby will be the first library in North Yorkshire to run the scheme.

County Councillor Greg White, Executive Member for Libraries, said: “Libraries across North Yorkshire are always looking for new ways in which to support their communities. This Read2Dogs scheme is a wonderful example of that. It’s important for so many aspects of learning and leisure for children to develop a love of reading, so an initiative like this that makes it fun and easy is to be welcomed.”

Rachel said: “I am a nanny and have worked with children for 20 years, so the Read2Dogs scheme was always something I was very interested in. The children really benefit, because the dog calms them down, especially if they are a nervous reader or have trouble expressing themselves. Sometimes, talking to a dog will reduce their heart rate, reduce the anxiety and enable them to read without fear of judgement. They read naturally and can relax completely while reading and, hopefully that gives them an enjoyment of reading.”

Alison added: “People can read whatever they want. I don’t think the dogs are choosy. It has got to be something that the person who is reading is comfortable with. I spoke to my grandchild about it and she said I can’t read, grandma, but I can talk about pictures to them, and that would be fine, too.”

This story was published 6 January 2020