Six-year-old Leah Arrighi sits on the carpeted floor of the Oakdale Public Library’s community room reading aloud from a children’s book to another – three years older than she is.
The listener sits patiently while his chocolate-colored eyes follow Leah’s finger without any judgment as she sounds out the more difficult words of the story.
Leah’s audience: a nine-year-old golden retriever named Tanner who helps children get over their fear of reading in front of their peers.
Tanner, and other four-legged volunteer canines, offers a positive reading experience through the “Read to a Dog” program, sponsored by Therapy Dogs International.
“This has been a popular program,” said Oakdale Librarian Bryan Sontag. “So far we have half our slots filled.”
Sontag brought the “Read to a Dog” program to the Oakdale Public Library last year after its success in Modesto.
“This program allows for a child to practice reading aloud to a listener who isn’t judgmental,” said Sontag. “Dogs accept the story exactly as it’s read. This allows the child to have a stress free experience.”
Reading out loud improves reading skills. The dogs are ideal reading companions because they create a relaxed, comfortable, and safe environment.
Kelly Arrighi, Leah’s mother, said her daughter loves dogs. When they tried to have her read to their family pet, it wasn’t as successful.
“He’s kind of hyper and can’t sit still,” said Kelly about their Australian shepherd.
Tanner, however, is a certified therapy dog that has gone through the AKC Good Citizen Course, giving him the perfect training and background as a reading companion.
Tanner’s owner, Mary Whatley of French Camp, has been involved with therapy dogs for over eight years.
She currently volunteers through the Stanislaus County Library system and recently brought Tanner into the system.
Tanner previously was involved with agility, tracking, and obedience competitions.
“He’s had a career change,” said Whatley. “Now his job is to get read to and petted.”
Tanner’s reward for being such a good listener to the story: a big hug from Leah.
As the saying goes, “every dog should have a kid.”
The Oakdale Public Library is located at 151 S. First Ave. The Read to a Dog program is offered on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings in July. Contact Bryan Sontag at 847-4204 to schedule a time to participate.