FURRY READING BUDDY - Nine-year-old Hannah Weldon reads to Sadie at the the Red Deer Public Library downtown branch as part of the Reading Tails program. Michelle Falk/Lacombe Express

Red Deer Library seeks more dogs for reading program

Program finds sharing a book with a furry friend builds kids’ confidence

The Red Deer Public Library is looking for more service dogs and volunteers to participate in their children’s program Reading Tails.

“We have a wait list of 16 kids for the program,” said Deb Isbister, youth services coordinator at the downtown branch.

Reading Tails partners kids up with dogs for reading sessions.

The idea is that reading aloud to a furry friend is less intimidating for reluctant readers than alone or with an adult.

The trouble is, not just any dog will do.

“It takes a certain disposition of dog,” said Eva Sarson, community outreach coordinator at the Central Alberta Humane Society and manager of the Canine Companions program.

She added that often the best dogs for the job are older and do not stay with us as long as we might hope.

Sarson tests dogs for service dog certification and places them with interested organizations, like the library. She is a big believer in the value of the library’s Reading Tails program.

“There is lots of research to show that dogs lower people’s heart rates and make them feel calm. They give you that warm fuzzy,” she said.

Mike Weldon and his wife came upon the program by chance.

They were thrilled for their daughters to have positive interactions with a well-trained dog and improve their reading skills at the same time. They are unable to own a dog due to his wife’s allergies.

“It’s a fantastic way to get them to read out loud, without us having to nag them,” he said.

His nine-year-old daughter, Hannah, agrees. She said normally she does not enjoy reading for school, but with Sadie by her side even her French homework is enjoyable.

“I sit here and listen to them and they’re loving it,” Mike said. “It doesn’t even sound like the same kid – they are relaxed when it’s just the dog and they’re so confident.”

According to Isbister, the downtown branch would love to expand the popular program, but they can’t without more dogs.

Sarson said she is always running sessions to certify dogs and assess if they would be a good fit.

The Reading Tails program has seen about 200 children in four years.

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