HURLOCK — Awww, come on. Dogs can’t read so how can they help kids read? According to the owners of a trio of outstanding dogs, all of whom are part of Pets on Wheels (POW) Delmarva, the program to encourage reading among school age children works. Ask the teachers at Warwick Elementary School in Secretary, the staff at the Hurlock public library, parents, or even the youngsters themselves and you will get some very enthusiastic comments.
An adorable 12 year old mini-Schnauzer named Maizie is Cheryl Price’s reading listener. At first Cheryl brought her rescue dogs Maizie and dachshund Lola to schools to talk about taking care of dogs. But while both are POW dogs, Maizie is better suited to the sitting and listening part of the reading program. She takes them both to nursing homes however.
There are two other dogs in the program. One is Harley, a stunning 2 year old standard poodle, owned by Ann Sullivan; the other is Luna, a 13 year old Vizsla who is a real fashion plate, owned by Linda Furey. While all the dogs are well behaved no special training is needed. Some pets seem to love the attention and instinctively understand what is expected of them. These three are well suited to the job.
Last summer the trio began offering sessions at the library for any children in the library who wished to participate either by reading or just sitting and listening. The library posts dates when the canine listeners will be there. The dogs started last year at Warwick Elementary School with the 2nd grade and are listening to 3rd graders this year.
Former marine James Travers whose degree in culinary arts led him to work in kitchens at several juvenile facilities, discovered how much he relates to young people. “I just gel with kids,” he says. “I think it’s my calling. James runs the library’s Outreach program and all the children’s programs. “I love working with kids; I love giving back to the community. This POW program inspires kids to do more than they think they do. Animals can bring things out in kids that sometimes adults can’t. And they are comforting. You saw a couple of kids here today who never read books and they read books to the dogs. It’s great to see.”
A trip to Warwick on Tuesdays is eye-opening. The enthusiasm level in the 3rd grade classrooms is so high it is palpable. Teacher Kristen Trawinski says, “I really enjoy the program because it allows students to get to read to animals and it’s something that helps them become comfortable reading to other people and eventually getting to read in front of the classroom.
Sometimes they’re not comfortable reading to adults but reading to animals gets them ready to read on their grade level and builds their confidence.”
Teacher Julie Wagner says, “I love it. The kids look forward to it. They sit down on the floor and read and have someone listen. They just absolutely love it. They love Luna and they love her outfits.” The reading period is 30 minutes and over the weeks each child will read to a pet for 7 or 8 minutes. Ms. Wagner says, “I feel that sometimes when they’re reading out loud they hear themselves and they self correct as they’re reading. If you have them read independently that’s great. But when they read out loud not only do they hear themselves making a mistake they also get into emotion. They’ll become part of that character or they’ll take on the voice of the character. I read out loud 10 minutes before they read independently. And I’ll get into the voice of the character as I read out loud and I hear them doing the same thing when they read to Luna.” She explains, “It’s not just a monotone but they like to kind of act out and become that character when they’re reading. Anything that will get them to love to read and to want to read is good.”
Teacher Gabbi Dolarsky “absolutely loves the program. It makes them very excited to read. Every Tuesday, before the 30 minute ARC reading program, they go to the bathroom and when they see Maizie in the hallway they immediately come back and say ‘Maizie’s coming down the hallway.’ It really encourages them to put all they have into reading. I think they get very excited on the day she comes but they want to make sure they’re reading something so then they can tell her what they read and they can share their stories with her. We all look forward to Tuesdays when she comes to visit us. We think it’s an awesome program.”
For information about Pets on Wheels, go to: http://petsonwheelsofdelmarvainc.org.