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Tale Waggin’ Tutors; Service dogs ‘listen’ to young readers

By David Talley | Published Saturday, September 16, 2017
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Time to Read

TIME TO READ – Travis Walker reads under the supervision of Ava (left) and trainer Katherine Prado at the Rhome Public Library Wednesday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

As 6-year-old Travis Walker read slowly aloud, pausing to sound out unfamiliar words, a pair of knowing eyes looked patiently back at him from over the top of his children’s book.

Ava, a 2-year-old service dog, is also a fan of books.

She belongs to trainer Katherine Prado and is one of two “tail waggin’ tutors,” service dogs specifically tasked to comfort and listen to young readers like Walker as they read out loud.

“When the dog is there while you’re reading, it washes away that school-like atmosphere for those readers,” Prado said. “It relaxes the child and puts them more in the story, and I think it even gives them a little more focus.”

Ava and Prado were available for free appointments and walk-ins Wednesday at the Rhome Public Library. Prado is a former educator and librarian who for nine years has been offering her dogs to area schools and libraries as a means to help kids become better readers.

“These are emerging readers that are maybe having a bit of difficulty,” she said. “It could be just that they lack some confidence or they have reading skill issues. But really it’s also for kids who read well. It’s for anybody who wants to sit down and have 15 minutes. It’s a risk free environment.”

Rose Van Meter, the Rhome library’s board president and Walker’s grandmother, said he’s read with Prado’s pups before, and their return this week meant he was excited to brush up on his skills to read in front of a dog.

“What was interesting, is that for Travis it was a motivator,” Van Meter said. “Children are drawn to animals. He’d rather come read to the dog than read to his mother. So it was a motivation to come home and to learn his sight words and learn his skills so he could come back and read to the dog.”

Together, Ava and Prado’s other pup, Honey, make for a receptive, but judgment-free, audience. Prado sits with the student and dog during the 15-minute reading session, offering help with some words. However, it’s ultimately the reader’s show to run, she said.

“I kind of go with what they’re telling me,” Prado said. “Some kids are nervous around dogs, so sometimes we situate her facing away at first. The structure is whatever they need to do to read, but the structure is also ‘You are going to read to me.’ The teacher in me says, ‘You are going to read; this isn’t just a petting zoo.'”

The dogs will be available again at the library Wednesday, Oct. 11, and Wednesday, Nov. 8. For information or to set up an appointment, call the library, 817-636-2767.

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