Charlie is a black and white great Dane/pointer therapy dog with a taste for literature – or rather, a taste for treats after he listens to children reading, according to his owner, Barb Balla of Mount Prospect.
The Forest Park Public Library will present “Read to a Dog” day between 11 a.m. and noon on Saturday, Nov. 10. Charlie is one of four dogs from Rainbow Assisted Therapy who will visit the library to read with children, age 5-10, on Saturday.
“Charlie’s heard Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Boxcar Children and books about every animal imaginable,” said Balla. “He’s even been read to in Spanish.” Charlie has been traveling to libraries to hear children read for five years, said Balla.
“He doesn’t care what they read because he likes hearing somebody talking to him and if they like to pet him, that’s even better.”
Libraries all over the region have found that therapy dogs are great reading motivators.
“Reading to a dog gives struggling and beginning readers a chance to practice their reading to a friendly, non-judgmental – and furry! – audience,” said Forest Park Library Youth Services Director Susan Kunkle.
“Rainbow works in about two dozen libraries,” said Balla, “from Wisconsin to the Indiana border and out to DuPage County.”
Dogs undergo extensive training with their instructor before they ever start any programs or observations, Balla said. “They pass a canine ‘good citizens’ test, plus testings that are unique to Rainbow,” she said.
The dogs have different reactions to the books being read aloud, said Balla.
“Sometimes they just sit there or lie there. They may act interested or not interested,” Balla said. “Charlie looks like he’s sleeping, but he keeps one ear up so he can hear what you’re reading.”
The program makes special allowances for children who might be afraid of dogs. They are not required to pet the dogs, or even sit close to them, said Balla. “We don’t push them. They sit as close or far away from a dog as they like.”
Three children at a time will read for 10- or 15-minute sessions.
As for doggie treats, Balla said whether Charlie gets a tidbit usually depends on the library’s food policy.
“He’s extremely food-motivated,” Balla said. “If he sees the treat ahead of time, he will sit there and not move until he gets a treat.”
To sign up for Read to a Dog, call the library at 708-366-7171, or register online at www.fppl.org. The library will hold another Read to a Dog program in December.