Good dog a good listener for young readers

Devon, a therapy dog in the Omaha Public Library's Read to a Dog program, loves when children read to him, and show him the pictures.

Devon has heard hundreds of stories.

Week after week, the 8-year-old Shet-land sheepdog sits patiently as children who have come to visit read him passages from books.

In the Omaha Public Library's Read to a Dog program, children have the opportunity to read their favorite stories out loud to a certified therapy dog. Every week for several minutes, the child has the chance to hone new reading skills during a one-on-one session with a special listener.

"It's relaxing for the child," said Emily Getzschman, marketing manager for the Omaha Public Library. "The best thing about it is it's not intimidating, because a dog isn't there to judge you or laugh at you or correct you. It's just there to reassure you."

READ TO DOG

MILLARD LIBRARY

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays

Where: 13214 Westwood Lane

Call: 402-444-4848

MILTON R. ABRAHAMS LIBRARY

When: 4 to 5 p.m. Sundays

Where: 5111 N. 90th St.

Call: 402-444-6284

In addition to building self-confidence, having a dog for a listener often gives a child another incentive to read, according to Therapy Dogs International. In cases where children are afraid of animals, reading to a docile therapy dog provides an opportunity to overcome their fear with positive interaction.

Two Omaha library branches currently host the program: the Millard Library on Tuesdays and the Milton R. Abrahams Library on Sundays.

Devon and his handler, Dianne Krantz, head to the Millard Library every Tuesday so Devon can meet with his loyal readers.

Krantz's job is mostly to keep the readers and Devon on task. She'll sometimes prompt the children to show Devon pictures on the pages. Sometimes she'll engage them, asking them to explain to Devon what's happening in the story.

Leilou Guerrero, 10, and her brother Tony, 7, are frequent visitors. The Guerreros have been meeting with Devon almost every week for the past two years.

They started, said their father, Bryant Guerrero, when Tony entered kindergarten and was having difficulty learning to read. Guerrero said he and his wife figured practicing with a dog would be more fun for him than practicing with his parents.

Leilou, a self-professed voracious reader, came along for the experience.

"I mostly like books about animals because I'm going to grow up to be a vet," she said.

Since meeting with Devon, Guerrero said, Tony's reading has improved. Before, he only looked at the pictures in his books. Guerrero said now he sees his son reading in his bed before falling asleep.

Leilou said the siblings have gotten to know Devon over the years. She can tell when he gets bored hearing her stories.

But she knows how to keep him interested.

"If he starts wandering off, just say the word 'cookie,'" she said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-3131, blake.ursch@owh.com twitter.com/blakeursch_owh

"The best thing about it is it's not intimidating, because a dog isn't there to judge you or laugh at you or correct you. It's just there to reassure you."

Emily Getzschman, Omaha Public Library marketing manager

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