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--- Issued April 22, 2012

Twice a month, about 12 youths from the John Horan Garden Apartments and 12 from Erie Heights go to the Blasco Library to read to dogs participating in the Therapy Dog Reading Program.

Pat Van Zandt Christianson, founder and executive director of Erie’s “Therapy Dogs United “ (814 456-DOGS), a non-profit  which provides the dogs to the library and other public agencies and schools, says that the dogs help children to read because the animals have “non-judgmental ears.”

“If I’m not a good reader or a strong reader, I won’t be comfortable reading to adults who may be critical of my reading skills,” she says.  “But reading to dogs is different.  A dog won’t judge me if I don’t get my words just right.  He won’t say ‘Go back and do that again’ or ‘Sound it out’ or tell me ‘Sit down’ if I’m just not getting it.”

“A child who has difficulty reading is the perfect candidate to curl up alongside a therapy dog to enjoy a good book,” Christianson says.

“When reading to a dog, a child is much more relaxed.  He’ll stop often to see if the dog is paying attention and put the book in front of the dog’s face so the animal can see the pictures.  His tone of voice softens.  He’ll stop to pet the dog.  The child is much more animated – and motivated.  When he comes to a word he doesn’t know he’ll turn to a volunteer and say, almost without thinking,  ‘What’s this word?’ so he can get it right for the dog --something he would probably never do otherwise.”

Many children don’t have dogs of their own, Christianson says, and the only place they can see or pet one is at the library.
 
The program is organized by Lori Metalonis, grant administrator gor the Erie Count Public Library.