09/28/09 — Story time ... with fur

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Story time ... with fur

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on September 28, 2009 1:46 PM

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Jessica Smith, left, and her Rottweiler therapy dog, Diesel, teach JaQuan Batts, 5, and Kylie Bunch, 7, what to do when they come across a strange dog during "Reading with Rover" at the Wayne County Public Library on Saturday.

The black and white dog pricked his bat-like ears and stared with hopeful brown eyes at the little girl perched on a chair next to him, but his blue leash, and manners, kept him in place beside his owner.

Spotting his predicament, the girl inched her chair closer for easier access to the short-legged pooch.

Jack-in-the-box, a 2-year-old Cardigan Welsh Corgi, grinned as his new friend stretched one small hand down to the floor and patted his head.

The rainy Saturday afternoon at the Wayne Memorial Library was a doggy meet-and-greet for the "Reading with Rover" program, introducing children who need a little help to improve their reading skills with therapy dogs like Jack-in-the-box who give the kids a quiet, nonjudgmental reading buddy.

Children might be afraid or embarrassed to read aloud to an adult, said dog handler and owner Patty Cable, but they wouldn't be worried about reading to a therapy dog like her Sheltie, Trudi.

"The kids will read to a dog. They know the dog is not going to criticize them," Mrs. Cable said.

Most of the children at the first meeting reported that they had dogs at home, but it was still a good opportunity for teaching a few lessons in dog safety.

Don't look into a strange dog's eyes, because they interpret that as a challenge, dog trainer and owner Jessica Smith told the children. And if a strange dog approaches, the rule is to think like a tree.

"How would you be a tree? Put your arms down by your sides," she told the group, who froze in place, rooted to the spot.

Mrs. Smith's registered therapy dog, a Rottweiler named Diesel, tried to get the "trees" to pet him, but the children didn't move, even when the big dog, nearly face-to-face with a few of them, sniffed and slobbered a little.

"You don't want to laugh and giggle," Mrs. Smith warned.

That test passed, it was OK for them to relax.

"You don't have to be a tree now, you can pet him," she told the group, and it was Diesel's turn to stand as still as a tree while the children swarmed him with pets and scratches. Diesel put his head on 7-year-old Joaquan's chest, snuggling with him as the little boy rubbed his black and tan ears.

The children also got to meet Trudi, a young German shepherd named Jerry Lee, and Osito, a Golden Retriever. Osito is a reading dog still in the making, but the wiggly, golden-coated retriever was Stephanie Crews' favorite pup of the day. She peeked at him as he sat with owner, Vanessa Bennett, 17, who tried to keep his wagging, fringed tail from knocking the fliers off the table.

Although he's still learning the trade of being a therapy dog, Osito is part of a special project for Miss Bennett, a senior at Eastern Wayne High School. She's teaching Osito to be a therapy and reading dog as part of her senior project.

"I really like animals. It's a lot of fun," she said.

Osito, visiting with Stephanie, seemed to think so, too.

About 11 kids were signed up for the 20-minute reading sessions at the library, which will be held the first, second and fourth Saturdays of the month from 9:30-11:10 a.m.

For more information or to sign up, contact librarian Maegan Wilson at 735-1824, ext. 5100.