“I’m not reading for you, Mommy. I’m reading for the doggie.”
While 3-year-old Sri Rohin Vajella might be too young to truly read the book in his hand, he immediately grasped the reason Tail Waggin’ Tutors is a hit with children and parents: Reading to a dog is fun.
And because dogs don’t pass judgment, it’s a nonthreatening way for children to practice their reading skills aloud without fear of embarrassment.
“A dog doesn’t criticize, judge or ridicule when they make a mistake, so they’re open to reading to a dog,” said Beverly Barton, owner of 7-year-old Lulu, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel certified as a therapy dog.
Every Saturday, Barton and Lulu plop down on the floor in the children’s area at Shreve Memorial Library’s Broadmoor Branch and wait for children to approach. There’s no structured program. Young readers come and go as they please while Lulu reclines calmly in the center of the circle.
Venu Vajella and Jahnavi Vuppalapati, Sri Rohin’s parents, just moved to the area from Cincinnati and stumbled on the reading session during their first visit to the library. Looking at the grin on his son’s face, Vajella said they would be back.
Lisa Walter and 3-year-old daughter Sarah also enjoyed the reading circle. “I think it’s wonderful,” Walter said. “We’ll definitely come back.”
University Terrace fourth-grader Betsy Shum is a regular — she’s been reading to Lulu ever since the program began two years ago. “It’s fun,” she said. “Sometimes she likes to lick us.”
Kay Shum, Betsy’s mother, says her little girl loves “Mrs. Beverly” and Lulu. “She asks me to bring her every Saturday. She looks forward to it. She’s very social and likes to interact with the dog and the children.”
Tail Waggin’ Tutors is the brainchild of Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer group organized to provide qualified handlers and their therapy dogs for a variety of programs in settings from schools to nursing homes. Barton estimates there are about two dozen certified therapy dogs in Shreveport-Bossier City, but Lulu is the only one involved in a regular public reading program.
“Tail Waggin’ Tutors’ purpose is to foster a love of reading and make it enjoyable, increasing children’s confidence in reading out loud,” Barton said.
Barton, who owns five dogs, had wanted a therapy dog for years, but never had one with a suitable temperament until she adopted Lulu about four years ago.
“I knew I had found the right one,” she said. “She had the right combination of temperament. She’s not scared of anything. She loves everybody, especially children.”
She and Lulu went through a 10-week obedience training program at Red River Obedience Club, and then Lulu earned Canine Good Citizen status before being evaluated for TDI certification.
In addition to starring in the reading program, Lulu’s other missions include brightening the days of nursing home patients and comforting chemotherapy patients.
“Dogs lower blood pressure, increase endorphins and make people laugh,” Barton said. “All of that promotes healing. We’re just scratching the surface of what these animals can do.”
If you go
What: Tail Waggin’ Tutors reading program for children.
When: 1-2 p.m. Saturdays.
Where: Shreve Memorial Library Broadmoor Branch, 1212 Captain Shreve Drive, Shreveport.
Info: 318-869-0120 or http://www.shreve-lib.org/Facilities/Facility/Details/Broadmoor-5. For more information on Therapy Dogs International programs and evaluators, go to http://www.tdi-dog.org.