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‘Tail Waggin’ Tutors’ offers another way to help kids with their reading skills

January 14, 2012

Jeanne Curtis (seated, left) reads a story to four-year-old Star Russel while Sadie, a two-year-old golden retriever owned by Peggy Brown, sits patiently during Thursday’s “Tail Waggin’ Tutors” at the Punxustawney Memorial Library. (Photo by Tom Chapin/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — From now until the snow melts, the Punxsutawney Memorial Library ... or the dogs are going to the library.

Beginning this past Thursday, the library kicked off its “Tail Waggin’ Tutors” program for children ages six through nine.

During the program, the youngsters not only get to take part in reading and crafts, but also work with Sadie and Sara, the stars of “Tail Waggin’ Tutors.”

The two therapy dogs — Sadie, age two, and Sara, age six — are golden retrievers owned by Peggy Brown of Punxsy, who was trained by Therapy Dogs International (TDI), a volunteer group that regulates, tests and registers therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for visits to nursing homes, hospitals, schools, other facilities and wherever therapy dogs are needed.

“Tail Waggin’ Tutors” is a TDI program that allows children to practice their reading skills by reading to dogs like Sadie and Sara.

In some cases, children who haven’t mastered their reading skills may feel self-conscious about reading in front of others. And sometimes, an adult being read to by a child may become, well, a little bored.

But with “Tail Waggin’ Tutors,” a child reads to the dog in a relaxed atmosphere, in which the dog will not judge him or her — or become bored — if he or she hits a few bumps in reading.

For children, “It’s calming to have the dogs around,” said library Director Coral Ellshoff. “It encourages them to be readers. It’s one part of a lot of different approaches for children to become better readers. They can practice reading in a different way.”

Retired librarian Jeanne Curtis — whom Ellshoff described as “a fantastic storyteller” — is also working with the program.

Ellshoff said throughout the program, participants will focus on a particular book during the week, discuss the book and take part in a craft activity relating to the book. The children will then have time to read to the dogs and then peruse the stacks for a book to take home.

The entire program will also focus on different aspects of — what else? — dogs, such as dog safety and the different breeds of dogs, Ellshoff said.

In addition to the library and elsewhere, Brown takes Sadie and Sara to nursing homes, where the dogs help the residents — who may be agitated or lonely — take comfort in petting and interacting with them.

“It just makes them happy,” Brown said about the nursing home visits. “It’s a break from their everyday routine, and it gives them a bright spot in their day.”

It’s already brightening Ellshoff’s day.

“I think it’s great to see dogs in the library,” she said. “I love it. I think it’s fun.”

“Tail Waggin’ Tutors” will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. every Thursday until the summer reading program kicks off at the library.

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