INDIANAPOLIS — Learning to read can be difficult for some. Add ridicule and mocking from others further along in the process than you and it gets even more challenging.
The Indianapolis Public Library’s PAWS to Read program works to combat that by pairing children with dogs that are trained to be gentle and attentive.
“It’s structured for struggling or reluctant readers of school age,” said Joe Fox, juvenile public services librarian at the Wayne Township Public Library. They and other branches, including Eagle Township and Glendale, have hosted the PAWS to Read program for years.
“We’ve pretty much opened it to any children who would like to come — especially the ones who are just beginning to read on their own,” Fox said.
Simply put, it works because dogs don’t judge.
“In a classroom setting, a lot of times there’s peer pressure, giggles, snickering,” Fox said. “Kids feel a great deal of peer pressure. At the library we always want to promote good early literacy and reading skills. Absolutely there’s no sense of judgment from a dog that sits and listens.”
The canines that participate in PAWS to Read are specially trained to be placid around their subjects.
“They do an extraordinary job of paying attention,” said Fox, noting the dogs used in the program aren’t rescues.
Dandy, a standard poodle, is one of the canine volunteers at Wayne Township. Almost 6 now, he’s been a volunteer since the age of 1. Dandy spent six months in canine good citizens training to become certified. He also volunteers at Brooke’s Place, which helps those who’ve lost loved ones.
“He tried out for Methodist, but he growled at another Golden Retriever (and didn’t get accepted),” said Lori Tindall, Dandy’s owner. “For some reason he doesn’t like his cousins. He loves everyone else though. It’s so funny with him.”