Dogs lend a supportive ear to young readers at the Santa Fe Public Library
Jessica Whitehouse and her 11-year-old daughter Nora came to the Santa Fe Public Library on a Tuesday evening to pick up some books. But tucked behind the stacks, they found a meeting room — with dogs.
"You're sweet!" Jessica told one of the dogs while petting him.
Reading out loud to people can be terrifying. But to dogs, not so much.
The Santa Fe Public Library system is part of a growing trend around the country to bring in dogs as a calming, attentive audience for young readers like Nora.
"We come to the library a lot, for a lot of programs, but this is the first time —
we just happened upon it," she said of the program.
After a few minutes with Kobi, a very fluffy, brown and black Keeshond, they were both planning on coming back.
"They get to lay on you, and you get to pet them and meet new dogs and read," Nora said.
A little over a year ago, the Santa Fe Public Library partnered with the Santa Fe Humane Society to bring in trained therapy dogs for children to read to for a program called Wags and Words.
It is part of a growing trend in schools and libraries around the country, and several studies, including one published in the International Journal of Educational Research this year, show that it helps kids gain confidence and test higher in reading.
Kobi was one of two dogs that came this week. His owner Rod Gould said he is a smart dog who needed a job.
"He doesn't correct them very much on their grammar, their spelling, their syntax. He's just there to appreciate them and they love him," Gould said.
Kobi is three and has been non-judgmentally listening to children read at libraries and schools in the area for two years.
"Some of the kids are still learning to read and are not that confident, but there's something about reading to a dog that lowers the stress levels," Gould said.
"And I watch them — they're focusing on the book, and then the little hand reaches out and begins to pet him, and he responds, and they giggle, and they begin to relax and enjoy reading."
Ten-year-old Calder is a regular here, and he read a book from the Redwall series to Kobi, who he said is his favorite.
Sue Burnham with the Santa Fe Humane Society said dogs like Kobi have been making appearances at libraries and schools in and around Santa Fe for over a decade.
"We had a volunteer who was a retired librarian, and she had heard about programs where kids read to dogs, and she really wanted to do that with her dogs in the school," she said.
And those dogs kept getting invited back. Burnham said the program has become so popular, she doesn’t have enough dog volunteers to go around, but she is looking for more and can match interested dog owners up with the training.
"We have so many more reading opportunities in town. I get requests all the time," she said.
Pricilla, 13, comes in every week. This time, she sat on a fleece blanket with paws and bones, reading with four-year-old retriever Sita’s head in her lap.
"I think one time I brought like three books, and I had a dog decide. I just laid them all in front of her, and she just put her paw on one of them," Pricilla said.
Sita’s owner, Kathy Marsak, said Sita loves when the readers give her that level of attention.
"I think she just likes interacting with the kids, and of course they're petting her and talking to her, and I think to her that translates as love," she said.
And for the kids reading, the feeling is mutual.
This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.