Furry friends help kids with reading skills

By Kristen Tribe | Published Thursday, June 30, 2011

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Jack is a good listener.

He sits quietly while countless stories are read to him at Decatur Public Library – never correcting, never critiquing.

He’s a confidante and a friendly, furry face when the words are hard and the story seems long.

Earlier this month, he and his owner, Madolyn Congdon of Alvord, made their first appearance at the library for Story Tails with Jack, a program where school-aged children read to him for fun and to improve their reading skills.

Youth services librarian Katie Morris said it’s another opportunity to get kids excited about books and reading.

“(The first program) went really well. All the kids were so excited and happy,” she said. “We heard great comments from parents who felt it encouraged their children to read.”

Bree Neal, 9, of Decatur said she liked reading with Jack because “he was actually listening to me.”

A 4-year-old Husky mix, Jack greeted Neal with a series of sniffs before curling up on a giant floor pillow with Congdon on one side and Neal on the other.

It took a minute to gather in his long legs, but he settled in to listen to “How Rocket Learned to Read,” by Tad Hills. Occasionally he perked up an ear, as Neal absentmindedly scratched his shoulder while reading and sounding out words.

Jack and Congdon are a registered therapy team with Delta Society and Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ).

Congdon said prior to being screened and completing their certification in April, Jack had to undergo obedience training, and she said he was “pretty much unflappable.”

“He’s not excitable; he’s very calm,” she said. “Jack is very obedient, and he listens very well. I have quite a few other dogs, but out of all of them, he was the one because of his temperament.”

Congdon adopted Jack when he was only four months old, and she’s known for a while he would be a good therapy dog. She was just waiting for him to mature.

Monica Lopez of Decatur said her kids, Juliana, 9, and Carlos, 6, continue to talk about Jack since reading with him almost two weeks ago.

“Carlos is good at reading, but he has a hard time calming down,” Lopez said. “Just watching him sit down and read is a great thing.”

She said it also benefited her daughter, who is dyslexic.

“Juliana said she felt so relaxed (when reading to Jack),” Lopez said.

Congdon said results from the READ program have shown that a child’s blood pressure actually goes down when reading to a dog, and over time they can improve by three reading levels, depending on the circumstances and frequency in which they participate.

Amy Davis of Alvord said she hoped this made reading fun for her daughter, Hannah, 8.

“She doesn’t like to read and is struggling,” Davis said of her daughter. “As much reading as I can get in with her, I want to do. She loves animals and I hope this will help her enjoy reading more and encourage her to make it fun.”

Story Tails with Jack for the month of July is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Fridays July 1 and July 15. Call the library at (940) 627-5512 to sign up for a 15-minute time slot.

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