Return of Selby’s ‘Reading to Dogs’ service with a post-lockdown twist

This story was published 23 August 2021

They are indisputably man’s best friend, but beyond dogs’ better-known qualities, the people of Selby have learned they also make remarkably good listeners.

Young girl reading with dogs and her mum in Selby

The town’s library introduced ‘reading to dogs’ sessions as an answer to building children’s confidence when they might have been cautious of criticism about their reading skills from an adult audience.

After the coronavirus pandemic brought them to a halt, the sessions – using therapy dogs as a soundboard for children’s reading – are returning.

But in the post-pandemic era they could also serve a fresh purpose, in helping to restore language skills among children who have lacked the opportunity to interact with others during repeated lockdowns and other restrictions.

It is also hoped the sessions may be used to encourage adults with learning difficulties to practice reading out loud, without fear of having any mistakes corrected.

The sessions re-start with a 'drop-in’ on Wednesday, August 25, but regular dates will be the first and third Saturday of each month, where reading slots of 15 minutes’ duration can be booked.

A beanbag is provided for the reader while the therapy dog – one of two placid and specially trained Labradors, Dora and Morgan – will patiently ‘listen’ to their story-telling.

Outreach librarian Alison Tutill came up with the idea after reading of similar work in the USA and recruited help from the Pets as Therapy group and started sessions a couple of years ago.

Inevitably, they had to be suspended but after a risk assessment the time is now right for them to be reintroduced.

This time the library has identified there may be a need for children to re-establish and stretch their language skills, so there will also be an option of just talking about picture books, rather than reading text.

Parents are encouraged to help their child choose a book from the library ahead of the reading session.

“We have been desperate to set it up again, when we were allowed to,” said Alison. “We had a booking system, so people didn’t just turn up, and were getting lots of bookings.

“After long periods of lockdown, children are losing speech and language skills, so if someone has a child who wants to bring in a picture book to talk about it, rather than reading, that will help them,” she said.

The sessions previously proved enormously effective: “One woman told us her daughter would not read to anyone, but she then spent 15 minutes reading to the dog. Her mum was amazed.”

Both the therapy dogs involved are rescue animals, brought to this country from abroad and have been through therapy training.

The regular sessions will take place on Saturdays between 10am and noon, with bookings available through the library.

County Councillor Greg White, Executive Member for Libraries, said: “The county’s libraries are a wonderful resource which provide a wide range of services for all our communities. They have proved a lifeline through the pandemic, but this is one service which could not continue while problems were at their worst.

“Now it is returning I am sure it will be as popular as it was and will help many to improve their confidence as well as their reading and language skills."

Slots for reading can be booked with the library by telephone on 01609 534521 or by email at Selby.library@northyorks.gov.uk