REEDLEY – Teaching children how to read can take on a whole new appeal when it comes with dogs eager to hear a story.
Every weekend at the Reedley Branch Library, kids, families and anyone else interested can take part in the “read to a dog” programming. The event, which runs for an hour beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, provides a space for kids to practice reading aloud and learn how to interact with dogs.
“It’s really good as far as to get kids excited about reading and to get them comfortable about reading out loud,” Shannon Escobido, who has been bringing her dogs into the library since 2014, said. “If they trip over a word, it’s okay. It’s not a big deal, the dog is happy to listen and we’re a judgment-free zone.”
The dogs that visit the library are all certified therapy dogs trained to be around children and act as a calming presence for anyone who may need some extra comfort. Linda Rotan, a senior library assistant, said all the events at the library are free and the read to a dog events do not require registration.
Eight-year-old Esbeida visits the library every week, but said it would be her first time reading to the dogs when she visited July 8. Esbeida was more excited to go to the library than the beach on Saturday, her parents said, and she said that she loves the dogs because they are friendly and cuddly.
Esbeida read 1,000 books last year and said she loves the library because it “has all the books you need.”
“What I like about reading is that sometimes the books show lessons about what to do and what not to do,” Esbeida said.
Rotan and Escobido said the events are also great for kids who are scared of dogs or don’t know how to interact with them. Some of the books kids can read to the dogs also teach them about how to treat dogs and what to do when they’re afraid of a dog. For example, Esbeida read “May I Pet Your Dog?” by Stephanie Calmenson, which explains how to approach someone else’s dog and talks about why dogs might bark or be territorial.
Escobido said that in the area, there are many kids who are really afraid of dogs, possibly because of bad experiences or being around dogs that have been trained for fighting. Being able to experience dogs that are friendly and in a safe space helps those kids change their opinions, she said.
“We’ve had some (kids) that have started off where they won’t even be in the same aisle as the dogs and then later on they’ve become really close and they come every week,” Escobido said. “It’s nice to see that change in perception as well as their love for reading.”
Members of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs Fresno-area chapter volunteer to put on the events, so the dogs at the Reedley Branch Library may differ depending on the week; sometimes one dog will visit and sometimes there could be three or four.
Escobido, who has two certified therapy dogs named Doxie and Fozzy Bear and is also in the process of training a third named Presley, will typically bring in at least one of her dogs. She is occasionally joined by a member who is training a dog for their certification. The dogs in training have to remain in crates or strollers so they can learn how to behave around children, but kids can still read to them and enjoy their presence.
The overall atmosphere of the event aims to be relaxing and welcoming so kids can really build up their confidence with reading and being around dogs.