Sophie Ann and the Read to a Dog Program
View From the Stacks
It’s Thursday afternoon and school has finished for the week in Grand County. Inside the Fraser Valley Library, tucked in the far corner of the children’s area, a child is curled up with a good book, reading to a dog. Read to a Dog—the program that pairs children with a specially trained therapy dog, Sophie Ann—is in session.
Read to a Dog in Fraser Valley came about when Mikey Gallavan, Sophie’s owner and handler, approached Jeanette McQuade, branch manager of the library, about the possibility of a reading program with Sophie. McQuade, an enthusiastic dog lover, jumped at the chance to make a difference for children. She contacted teachers at Fraser Valley Elementary who were also excited about the possibility of youngsters increasing their reading fluency after spending time with Sophie.
Sophie was first introduced to the children in March, making special guest appearances during story time and other library events. Since then the program has been met with much excitement and success. In its first month more than 38 children ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade have met and read to Sophie. “It’s so wonderful to see the children’s faces light up when they first meet Sophie,” says McQuade, “and also heartwarming to see Sophie’s wagging tail as she begins to understand that this is her new job.”
Research proves that children who are self-conscious about their reading skills, or who are reluctant to read, relax and forget their concerns when they read to dogs. Often the children read loudly and clearly to the dog, a non-judgmental listener.
But Sophie is not just any dog. She has been carefully chosen by Mikey for a temperament suitable for this program. At four-months old, Sophie exhibited a confident demeanor and Mikey hoped she would grow up to be calm as well as confident. Now at two-years old, she delights in getting to “work at the library.” Her training has been extensive; first obedience school, next citizenship training, followed by testing and registration as a therapy dog by Animals for Therapy in Golden, CO, for Pet Partners (Delta Society).
Sophie’s job at the Fraser Valley Library is to help children feel comfortable, and to be a good listener. She excels at both. Sprawled on a blanket, she lies down and listens attentively while a child shares one of their favorite books. Often Sophie stretches a paw or leg, or might gently lean against the child who is reading. She loves to be touched. Experts have found that when humans stroke a dog their stress levels go down and the hormones attributed to joy and peace increase.
Fraser Valley Library’s program is more relaxed than other Read to a Dog programs. For example, Sophie reads with anybody—not just children who are reading ready. Moms read to babies and Sophie, sometimes a family reads together with Sophie, and sometimes a child might read a wordless picture book. Of course, children also read to Sophie one-on-one, with Mikey at their side.
Mikey wishes that more therapy dogs were available in Grand County. Right now, she knows of only one other who was trained as a therapy dog and registered by Pet Partners (Delta Society). She and Sophie would love to have an agreement with the schools in Grand County to partner with reading teachers. Mikey also notes that therapy dogs can be beneficial for almost anyone. Pet companionship in all forms can reduce loneliness, stress and anxiety, and promote relaxation.
Sophie is meticulously clean and sweet smelling. A golden retriever with glistening blonde hair, she is groomed regularly and prepared to meet her reading partners each visit. The children read to Sophie for 15 minutes a session, so six children get to read to Sophie each Thursday afternoon. It would be wonderful if there were dogs available for each library.
After the children read to Sophie, they get a sticker, “I Read with a Dog!” and Sophie gets a treat—a win, win for all!
To find out more about the characteristics that make a dog a good candidate for therapy work, Mikey suggested, “Check out the “AKC Canine Good Citizens (CGC) Program. That would give you a good sense of whether or not your dog would be suitable for the therapy program.” Mikey said that when Sophie matures she’d like to work with her as a Trauma team. She says “Dogs make people live longer.”
Pet Partners, a “parent organization” of Animals for Therapy, accepts nine different types of animals for therapy. Cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, miniature pigs, llamas, alpacas, and domesticated rats may also be trained for therapy.
The Read to a Dog program is scheduled to run through the month of May. To find out more information, please visit the Fraser Valley Library or contact Sophie and Mikey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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