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Therapy dogs help kids learn to read at this Colorado library

The six-year program has shown that reading to therapy dogs helps kids learn to read.

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — It’s a typical Monday evening at the College Hill Library in Westminster. 

A man quietly taps the keys on a computer. A college student checks out a stack of books. In a room off to the side of the children’s section, a third-grade boy named Mateo Henlee practices reading aloud. 

Mateo’s audience, however, is anything but typical. 

“I’m reading to the best dog on earth," Mateo said. "Rocky.”

Credit: Mike Grady

Rocky is a nine-year-old golden-doodle. 

“He’s trained to work as a therapy dog in a variety of different settings and this is one,” said Rocky’s human Dave McIntire. 

McIntire and Rocky have been volunteering at the library’s READogs program for six years. 

Twice a week children from Kindergarten through fifth-grade to come in and read to a therapy dog. 

“It is a wacky idea,” Dave said. “But then again the whole notion is, if a kid can feel comfortable and enjoy reading then they’ll do it more.”

“It’s one of the most popular long-term programs we’ve ever had,” said the library’s Public Service Coordinator Jackie Kuusinen. 

She said the two weekly drop-in sessions usually fill up. 

“We had over 400 sessions last year for students to come and read to dogs,” Kuusinen said. 

She explained that reading to a dog is less stressful for kids than reading to a human. The dog doesn’t judge the child’s reading abilities or correct every misspoken word. They just sit, listen and eat the occasional treat. 

“Being with a dog can actually lower your blood pressure and calm your nervous system so you can actually enjoy the process of reading,” Kuusinen said.

Credit: Mike Grady

The library has nine teams of volunteer dogs and humans. They keep the sessions to one room in the library, and make sure the animals are groomed before coming in. 

Kuusinen said that keeping the library a safe space for the entire community is important and so is making sure kids love to read at an early age. 

That is something McIntire has personally witnessed this program do. 

“I’ve seen kids who’ve read to Rocky three years in a row and have been two grade levels behind in reading,” he said. “Then the next year they’re only one grade level behind. The next year they’re caught up because they enjoy reading.”

Kuusinen said there is no denying this program’s results. 

“Darn it, we’re really making an impact on people’s lives,” she said. “That’s what libraries are all about is giving people an opportunity to make their lives better."

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