Ruff stuff

Charley has been helping kids who struggle with their reading skills gain confidence by providing a willing, uncritical audience.

Charley is a 7-year-old AKC Certified therapy dog who, along with her person, Jerry Nickell, visits The Village Library to participate in Children Reading to Dogs, a weekly program at several Metropolitan Library System branches.

A HALO (Human Animal Link of Oklahoma Foundation) certified therapy dog, Charley visits several hospitals and assisted living centers in her busy week, bringing her calming presence to the sick and the elderly, but Nickell said that this stop is her favorite.

“It really seems that she feels like this is a vacation,” Nickell said. “She spends so much time around people who are suffering, and she feels that. It takes its toll.”

The hour she spends in a quiet and colorful corner of the library full of comfy cushions and floor mats is a quiet respite, and she gets to hear great stories in the bargain. The children are allowed to bring their own books or choose one
from the library’s extensive collection. Nickell is on hand to give
direction, calmly helping with sounding out words, but his help is never
unsolicited.

This
gentle guidance is all some kids need for their reading skills to show
marked improvement. Nickell said one young lady who had been
participating in the program for a relatively short time saw her reading
improve by four grade levels.

Another
female participant, this one from a bilingual family, went from
struggling with basic English words to translating the books into
Spanish for Charley and Nickell’s enjoyment.

“It’s amazing, really,” Nickell said.

“You give them that attention and show confidence in them, and they really just take off.”

The perfect audience
Anyone who has had the benefit of having a dog in the family knows that canines are the perfect
audience. They will listen to “their” people with silent and uncritical
interest, regardless of the topic.

This
program capitalizes on that, allowing kids who otherwise would be too
embarrassed to read aloud to classmates, or even their parents, gain
confidence by having the chance to read to a furry friend who remains
attentive and engaged, even if she has heard the story 100 times.

The afternoon of our visit, Quashyla Morris and her cousins, Natajha and Quincy, were busy taking turns reading Pigs in Love by Teddy Slater and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. By the end of their time together, Charley had heard each book thrice and was riveted every time.

She
took turns sitting on Nickell’s lap and on the couch between Quincy and
Natajha while they shared the spotlight of Charley’s rapt attention.
You could tell all parties involved were having a blast. When reading
time was over, Quashyla said she was going to come every week if her mom
would bring her. She said she felt that the program was going to help
her.

“Reading to Charley was really fun. I like her a lot,” she said.

The
MLS program stems from a nationwide activity thought to have gotten its
start with Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer-based organization
that evaluates and provides training and certification for therapy dogs.
In every library branch it has been offered, it has been received with
great enthusiasm.

Not only is it adorable, but it motivates children in a
way that summer reading programs do not. By encouraging the act of
reading rather than finishing, challenged readers are more likely to
participate for enjoyment, not out of pressure.

The
Village Library recently expanded the chance to read to a canine friend
more than once a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call 755-0710 for
more information.

Devon Green

Devon Green is a life and food reporter for Oklahoma Gazette. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband Kevin and their two slightly evil felines, Goodluck Jonathan and Charles Taylor. Devon has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Oklahoma and once ran away with the circus to Macau, China. She is passionately local and lives to promote quality of life in OKC. She can most often be found eating, writing or writing about eating — while eating.

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