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Dog-eared to dog ears

Dogs have long served as a scapegoat for missing homework, but don’t worry, the pooches that will soon start making weekly appearances at two Jackson County library branches are meant to be an aid for youth education.

The very good boys and girls are therapy dogs intended to be a calming presence and encouragement for children in grades K-3 who want to improve their reading skills. It’s a simple process, with the kids reading out loud while the dogs listen.

Starting in March, this “Paws to Read” program will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays at the Jacksonville library, 340 W. C St., Jacksonville, and 3 to 4 p.m. the second Monday of each month at the Rogue River library, 412 E. Main St., Rogue River.

“Parents and teachers and even librarians, we jump to correction,” said Jackson County Library Services Coordinator Brystan Strong. “If a kid reads a word wrong, even if we’re not ill-intended, our instinct is to tell them how to say it right or to correct them on how they could read something ‘better.’ But dogs don’t do that. They just are happy to be read to, and it just builds that positive reinforcement with the child, so that they’re comfortable reading aloud. And once they build a little bit more confidence, then they’re more receptive to any sort of correction, the more educational element of reading aloud.”

Jackson County Library Services recently partnered with local literacy organization K9 Reading Buddies to make the program happen. K9 Reading Buddies started more than 10 years ago, celebrating its decade anniversary at the Grants Pass library in October 2019. Founding member Iris Hurwitz, a former teacher, said the program began as a way to use trained therapy dogs at the Grants Pass library. It’s based on the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program, based in Utah.

“I contacted them, and they provided the materials and said, ‘You can copy everything you want, but you’ve got to name the program something else,’” Hurwitz said.

K9 Reading Buddies was born, starting with three dog teams in October 2009. A year after they started making appearances at the Grants Pass library, they began to make appearances at Lincoln Elementary School, offering similar reading aid to youngsters. Recently a school in Merlin invited the group to make monthly visits.

“It’s gone beyond my initial thoughts, really,” Hurwitz said.

Michael Grutchfield, the Rogue River library’s branch manager, had previously worked at the Josephine County Library District, and saw the program’s success.

“One thing I observed was that it was the most consistently attended children’s program that we had,” Grutchfield said. “It was a big success there. Lots of children loved it. The idea of having dogs in the library was exciting to a lot of people, and the dogs themselves are so wonderfully quiet and teddy bear-like that they have no problem fitting into a library environment.”

Strong did some research and found other libraries had seen success with similar programs.

“What I did discover is there is more of a benefit to reading to dogs than, like, a stuffed animal,” Strong said. “Because they are living, and they do give you feedback, and dogs will always give you positive feedback.”

Fifteen dogs are currently involved with the program, including Labs, German shepherds, mini and standard poodles and others. The dogs have been trained to pay attention to the pages, Hurwitz said. She screens the potential therapy dog candidates, which go through an orientation program. They must be calm, attentive and comfortable with large groups of children, with solid obedience skills.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Dustin Peters photoStarting in March, this “Paws to Read” program will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays at the Jacksonville library, 340 W. C St., Jacksonville, and 3 to 4 p.m. the second Monday of each month at the Rogue River library, 412 E. Main St., Rogue River.