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Dogs turn kids into bookhounds

Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox Whitney the golden retriever listens attentively as 8-year-old Travis Kutter reads to her. CARRIE's story
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By Carrie ClickPost Independent StaffRIFLE – Whitney is such a good listener.So are Ollie, Boomer, Maggie, Chester and Roscoe. That’s why they have an entire summer reading program built around them. Now in its second year, Paws to Read pairs children with specially trained and certified dogs for one-on-one, 15-minute reading-aloud sessions at the Rifle Public Library.A group of Paws to Read dogs and their handlers visited Rifle Branch Library recently to have a reading session with some local kids and give about 15 new animal-themed children’s books to the library.

Heeling Partners president Deb Amsden and her black Lab Maggie, and vice president Sandy Jaffrey and her golden retriever Boomer, were part of the pack that visited Rifle’s library last week. The dogs, looking a bit confused, even autographed – or “paw-tographed” – the donated books, their handlers pressing their paws into ink pads and leaving the dogs’ paw prints on the title pages of the books, noting their donations. Good dog!The dogs and their handlers are all volunteer members of Heeling Partners, composed of local therapy dog-handler teams that visit Valley View Hospital patients to help them in their recovery process. To join Heeling Partner/Paws to Read, each canine and handler in the program must pass Delta Society or Therapy Dog International testing and become certified. In other words, these dogs are very good dogs.

Not only that, but Paws to Read dogs are helping children to become better readers.”And they’re all bilingual,” said handler Sandy Sekeres, who, with Whitney, her golden retriever, participates in Paws to Read. “They understand Spanish.””And when they close their eyes,” handler Beth Drum said with a wink, “it just means they’re trying to picture the story that’s being read to them.”Opening upAccording to Sekeres, research shows that kids who are learning to read can become nervous about looking dumb around their friends. But with a dog nearby, they start to relax and the act of reading becomes easier. “Most of the time they just sit there,” said Chris Kostelecky, 11, explaining what the Paws to Read dogs do when he reads to them. “Sometimes they stare into space. But they do help you get used to reading aloud. And since we don’t have a dog at home, my brother Kasey and I like coming here and reading to the dogs at the library.”



The dogs have a lot of practice listening. Three dog-handler teams have spent all school year attending the reading lab at Wamsley Elementary School in Rifle four days a week.”It’s so rewarding,” Drum said of the work she does with her springer spaniel Chester. “The kids start off coming into the reading lab so timid and quiet, and when they see Chester, they just open up. It’s the same at the library. This is some of the most fulfilling work you can do.” Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518cclick@postindependent.com


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