Children have been reading Dr. Seuss books for generations. What makes this scene at Abbott Library unique is who 6-year-old Amelia is reading to.
Bumble Bee, a 4 1/2 -year-old miniature Labradoodle, has been helping children build their reading skills for two years. Bumble Bee and her owner, Abby Brown, of Sunapee, work with both children and senior citizens as a certified therapy dog team.
“I’ve always volunteered and I wanted a dog, so I thought I’d combine that,” Brown said.
Brown and Bumble Bee earned a Canine Good Citizenship certification and a Therapy Dogs International certification before beginning volunteer work.
In addition to visiting children at the library once a month, the team also goes to Mount Royal Academy to read with first-graders and visit seniors at Woodcrest Village Assisted Living in New London and Summercrest Senior Living Community in Newport, where Bumble Bee p rovides comfort to residents by curling up on their laps.
At one point during their session at Abbott Library, Bumble Bee, wearing a pink vest with her name and certification displayed, stretches out to lick Amelia’s hand .
“We don’t kiss while she’s reading,” says Brown.
In response, the dog rests her paw on Amelia’s leg instead.
Therapy dogs must know how to ignore everything going on around them, Brown said. At the library, this means sounds from children and people elsewhere in the room. Bumble Bee’s attention must be on her subject, and her owner. Bumble Bee typically reads with the children for about 30 minutes.
But Bumble Bee does more than provide children with a safe place to practice reading. She helps them cope with fear, too.
Brown recalled two children who were afraid of dogs before meeting Bumble Bee.
“After one class with her, they now sit next to her and read to her,” she said.
Bumble Bee is Abbott Library’s first canine volunteer, said Mary Danko, the library’s director.
“It’s finding the right partner,” Danko said. “Abby is great to work with. She brings the right attitude and enthusiasm to it.”
Danko has seen children come out of their shells when Bumble Bee is around. Amelia, in particular, always reads to Bumble Bee during the dog’s monthly visits to the library.
“As soon as she saw Bumble Bee, she was asking for a certain book to read to her,” Danko said. “ It was great to see that motivation right away.”
Bumble Bee seems to agree. During the half-hour she spent at the library last m onth, she sat quietly as children read to her. She didn’t interrupt with barks to correct words that were pronounced incorrectly.
She simply listened.
“Whenever they’re here, I just want to go and take a peek,” Danko said. “It’s so satisfying to see the kids reading aloud.”