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Therapy dogs help kids read confidently

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Students sat, petting the dogs and reading their favorite books.

Mastiffs Sydney and Yogi sat quietly peering up at the youngsters who were flipping through books while petting the dogs.

The mastiffs are trained therapy dogs that travel to libraries, nursing homes and hospitals to relax the children, sick or elderly, who read or talk to the animals.

But they also help kids with their reading and are part of a month-long program to pack families into area libraries.

Sydney and Yogi are visiting branches throughout the county in September as part of International Literacy Month.

More families come to the library branches when they know they can interact with the dogs, and the experience helps children work on their reading skills, said Wendy Preilis, adult service coordinator for the Johnson County Public Library.

“It’s fun for kids when they learn fluency,” Preilis said. “They usually just read to a stuffed animal.”

Trafalgar resident Mary Lawrence has seen what children get from the dogs.

She works at a school in Indianapolis and became a handler of the dogs, going through training that teaches them how to sit still and do tricks that allow them to be therapy dogs, she said.

Young students who read out loud to dogs feel more at ease, Lawrence said.

Sydney or Yogi won’t know when the children mispronounce a word or stumble over a paragraph.

“Dogs don’t judge them when they make a mistake or make fun of them if they are below their reading level,” Lawrence said.

Therapy dogs first brought families into the Trafalgar branch of the Johnson County Public Library last year.

Word of mouth spread that dogs were at the branch, and about 15 to 20 more people came into the library than usual to visit the dogs, said Lora Harris, the children’s program assistant at the Trafalgar library.

Children surrounded the dogs, petting them and quickly grabbing a book to read to them.

The dogs sit quietly on a

pillow and look up at the youngsters as they get through their favorite book, Harris said.

“You know you have someone listening to you, but they aren’t going to stop you,” Harris said.

The popularity of the therapy dogs at Trafalgar last year prompted the county library to schedule visits to each of the branches during International Literacy Month this year, Preilis said.

“We’re just trying to get people to come to the library,” she said.

The approach has worked.

Sydney and Yogi commanded a crowd at the Clark-Pleasant branch of the library earlier this month.

One evening, about 20 kids clamored at a chance to read to the dog, Lawrence said.

Lawrence showed the youngsters what tricks the dogs could perform, and they instantly became a hit, she said.

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