MECHANICSBURG – The Mechanicsburg Public Library is celebrating 20 years of its PAWS for Reading program.
During the PAWS for Reading weekends, this year to be held on Saturday, April 15 and Saturday, April 29, the library hosts therapy dogs for children to read aloud to. The dogs are patient, happy listeners to whatever books are being read to them. The children can pick a book from the library to read to the dogs, or bring one of their own books. Children of all ages and reading levels are welcome to participate in the program.
The library shared in a statement: “Our PAWS for Reading program is a partnership of reading and animal-assisted therapy teams. It offers young readers a place and time to read aloud to therapy animals. Practicing literacy skills with a listening animal provides a comfortable, fun environment for children who are reluctant to read, or nervous and self-conscious about reading aloud. Reading to therapy animals is a powerful method to improve communication as well as literacy skills. All PAWS for Reading ‘Listening Animals’ are certified pet therapy animals owned, trained, and handled by volunteer members of the DOGTORS Animal-Assisted Therapy, Springfield, Ohio.”
Studies have shown tremendous benefits of therapy dogs in many areas, including emotional, physical, and even cognitive. In an article published by the U.S. Department of Education, it was stated that, “There is strong support for increased confidence, literacy skills and actual reading scores when children read to dogs.” Studies also show that the very presence of a dog in an educational environment tends to improve the areas of attention, concentration, relaxation, and motivation.
Long-time employee of the library and organizer of the PAWS for Reading program Joanne Carter has many fond memories of the program. She recalls witnessing countless readers have fun reading to their canine companions and feel encouraged by them. She has even seen library patrons be so inspired by the program that they go on to certify their own pets with the DOGTORS, which is no easy feat. Carter said one of her favorite parts of the program has always been seeing young readers open up to their dog partner and watching their confidence in reading grow while participating in the program.
A history of the program
Over the many years that this program has been held, it has evolved in many ways. When the program began in 2003, children sat on the floor with a cushion or blanket to read with the dogs. Later in 2006, with donations made from Lowes, “oversized dog houses” were built for the program to make a cozy space for the readers and therapy dogs to sit together. The “doghouses,” which are still used for the current program, are furnished with pillows, blankets, and more donated by the public.
Beginning in 2007, the program began to include a trip to Dohron Wilson Elementary. The therapy dogs are taken to the school during the school day so that children can have the opportunity to practice their reading skills and learn more about the program.
In 2009 the program welcomed a “listening cat,” and in 2022 the library added “Grab a Book: Read to a Goat” where children could read to a certified therapy goat. Beginning in 2019 “Books & Bridle” was added to the PAWS for Reading program. Books & Bridle introduced certified therapy horses to the program for children to read to. A “Reading Paddock” is constructed in the library’s parking lot for this part of the program, however one year due to weather, the small therapy pony was even allowed inside the library so children could continue to read to him despite the poor weather.
In 2022, in an effort to reach even more readers, the PAWS program added “PAWS in the Park” which provides a casual opportunity for reading at Goshen Memorial Park. The program also held “Santa PAWS” during Mechanicsburg Christmas in the Village.
This year, in addition to the PAWS for Reading program being held this month, the library is planning a “PAWS Pop-in” in May and June, and “PAWS Dog Days of Summer” in June and July
Children wishing to participate in the program need to register. Registration can be done by phone (937) 834-2004, in person, or online.
Thank you notes
Mechanicsburg Public Library would like to give special recognition and “Thank You” to the following people for their contributions and help over the past 20 amazing PAWS for Reading years.
To: Sunny Krugh, Mechanicsburg Public Library’s Director in 2002 who had the forethought and belief in a relatively new concept to help children improve their reading skills by reading aloud to trained, certified therapy animals.
To: Karen Loar and Bonnie Jamison from Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association, Dayton, OH, for taking PAWS for Reading from an idea in 2002 to a reality for Mechanicsburg Public Library in 2003 by providing the first listening therapy dog teams for the program.
To: Bob and Edith Wisenberger of DOGTORS Animal-Assisted Therapy, Springfield, for their continuing partnership with all the PAWS for Reading programs for 17 years.
To: All the wonderful and giving volunteer therapy teams from DOGTORS Animal Assisted Therapy and Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association who have made PAWS for Reading a successful program for 20 great years.
To: All the PAWS for Reading participants who were able to find enjoyment and fun while practicing reading with their listening partners.
Reach the writer at UDCeditor@aimmediamidwest.com