Kids buddy up with furry friends for reading

May 1—Khyber Selvey is a regular at reading to his furry friends at Dog Day Afternoon events at the Joplin Public Library.

Khyber, a 7-year-old pupil at Cecil Floyd Elementary School, was back Tuesday. He said he likes to come to the event because "I love dogs. Any kind" of dog.

He read the book "Pug," by Ethan Long, to the four dogs that were brought to the session by their masters. They are certified therapy dogs that remain calm as the young readers entertain themselves with their books and with petting their furry-tailed friends.

Khyber said he wasn't afraid to read to the dogs. "I've seen them all before," except ZayZay, a Pembroke corgi.

He said the experience has a "100% chance" of being fun because "I get to pet the dogs."

It's an event that always draws a crowd, said parents who were waiting with their kids until it was their turn to read.

Soon, 10-year-old Elena Blanchard, emerged from the reading room with a smile. "We got to read to dogs," she said.

"Really cute dogs," added her friend, Mila.

"It's a pretty cool," said Elena, with agreement from Mila, although Mila said she doesn't like to read out loud. Does she like it better if she's reading to a dog? "Kind of," she said.

One of the dogs the kids spent time with Tuesday was Stormy, a red Doberman decked out in a flowered hat. She was one of those calmly stretched out on a mat while the kids took turns reading to her.

"She is always calm when she is working," said her master, Pam Ferguson of Joplin. "All of these dogs are certified therapy dogs. They can't come in here if they are not certified. That's for the safety of the children."

She enjoys participating. "It's very entertaining," Ferguson said. "The first little boy insisted she look at the book, and she wouldn't look at the book. So I told him, 'She's just going to take a nap.'"

"It's great to help them read," Ferguson said. "The purpose is for them to read aloud so we can help them with any words and pronunciations, and it gives them confidence. But they don't feel pressured because they are reading to a dog."

Kristen Hawkins is the owner of ZayZay. That dog showed his enthusiasm for the job by mostly lying on his side with an occasional stretch onto his back. He had a naturally calm temperament that Kristen said she thought would make him a natural for a therapy dog. After attending therapy training, he has served in that role for two years now.

Hawkins said the kids enjoy reading with the dogs and ZayZay "likes it too."

Christina Matekel-Gibson, children's librarian, said, "We've been doing this program for more than 10 years, and we do it because it's a great way for new or reluctant readers to get some practice to read without feeling like they're being judged."

She continued: "It's like a different way to make reading fun and to practice reading. They get to read and pet a dog. It's fun. We've even had kids who have been at the library when the dogs were there who weren't able to read yet who would go home and practice reading all month until they could come back and read to the dogs. So it's great encouragement for those on the cusp of being able to read."

Dog Day Afternoons are held at 4 p.m. the last Tuesday of each month except in May, August and December, she said. Six or seven dogs are part of the rotation, but usually there are about four each time.

The children's library has books for all age groups of children and puts out a variety of them that the librarians believe would be of interest to the children for this event, especially about dogs. There are phonics books for kids who cannot quite read yet or are concerned that they couldn't read to give them a way to improve their reading skills, Matekel-Gibson said.