NICOMA PARK — Paige Fowler paused on the second page of the book she was reading out loud when her listener, D'Leo, started to groan. Paige, 6, looked up from her small purple chair in the corner of the Nicoma Park Library and giggled. Then D'Leo, a white and brown Dalmatian, barked. His handler, Jane Neely, hushed him. “Dalmatians are clowns, don't you know,” Neely said, her gold Dalmatian earrings shaking as she laughed, too. Each month trained therapy dogs visit libraries throughout the Metropolitan Library System for a program called Children Reading to Dogs. The activity is designed to foster a love of reading and improve literacy skills and self-confidence. Neely has been coming to the Nicoma Park Library about twice a month with D'Leo ever since he became certified with Therapy Dogs International in 2008. “I enjoy children and sharing my dog,” Neely said. Library Extension Specialist Lois Cross said children love reading to D'Leo. “It improves their reading skills tremendously,” Cross said. “He just makes them feel comfortable.” Reading out loud was a little scary for Mckenzie Savage, 10, but she said D'Leo comforted her. “He sat by me,” Mckenzie said. When Paige's giggles subsided from D'Leo's antics, she continued reading. This time D'Leo stood at the base of her feet with his nose poking over the top of the book in her lap, his tail wagging. After the first book, Paige wanted to read another book, and then another. “Do you want a treat?” Neely asked Paige when she finished. She held up D'Leo's treats. Paige shook her head. “They're natural and crunchy,” Neely teased as she held a clicker that she uses as positive reinforcement for D'Leo up to Paige's ear. Sometimes Neely brings stickers for the children who read, or lets them choose from a colorful collection of competition ribbons D'Leo has won. Dressed in a red bandana, D'Leo entertained everyone who stopped by the library as he chased balls, performed tricks and listened to half a dozen books. Even a few people who didn't come for the program stopped to watch and listen when they saw him. “He loves the attention,” Neely said. “He's just a big lover boy.”
IF YOU GO ...The Children Reading to Dogs program is offered at several Metropolitan Library System branches. To check availability in your area, go to the "Calendar” tab at www.metrolibrary.org.