“The little girl turned to her mom and said…”
Six-year-old Megan Cunningham sounds out the words carefully as she reads them out loud, sitting in a room in the children’s section of Wilton Library. As a young, early reader, she’s working hard to perfect her skills. But she’s doing so in a novel way. Megan is reading to Miles, a shaggy, black Sheltie mix.
“We love dogs, but we don’t have a dog. She has a little bit of fear, that they’ll jump. It’s a good thing that she’s around dogs that are highly trained, and easy to be with,” says Megan’s mom, Laura Cunningham. This past Saturday, Feb. 27, was Megan’s first time taking part in Tales to Tails, the monthly program Wilton Library runs for young readers to read to trained therapy dogs.
The library’s Shayna Simpson says that children participate in the Tales to Tails reading program for a variety of reasons.
“I’ve had children who are afraid of dogs–they’re good with reading but they want to get better with dogs. I’ve also had kids who are learning how to read and they’re comfortable with dogs. Sometimes it’s children with special needs, and sometimes it just kids who walk by and want to spend time with a dog.”
The library has been running the program for more than two years. Each time, two dogs visit the library and depending on the number of participants registered, children are able to read to one dog in a quiet room for about 15 minutes. Librarians only double-up readers if more than 12 readers sign up, or if siblings read at the same time.
Wilton Library runs the program in conjunction with ROAR, the Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue. The dogs are not culled from the adoptable animals currently in the shelter, however.
“Owners who have a very calm, docile dog and want them to become therapy dogs will take them to ROAR and go through a training program. They take classes and there’s an examination at the end–they have to be tested, like if you hold a piece of cheese, will the dog not react. They test to make sure that the dog passes the standards for being a therapy dog. We contact ROAR and they set up which dogs will come to us,” Simpson explains.
In addition to helping young readers at several libraries like Wilton’s, the ROAR-trained dogs also visit seniors in elder care facilities and special need students in area schools.
Miles has visited Wilton Library several times, but the other dog there on Saturday–Bailey, the Shih Tzu–was a first timer. Simpson says the kinds of dogs who will be there can vary.
“One day, we had a Newfoundland and a very tiny dog, they just looked so funny together,” she says.
As for kids like Megan, they love the experience. “I like to read, I read a lot,” she says. As for whether it makes her like dogs more, she’s got a clear answer. “Yeah! I think Miles was really great!”
The Wilton Library program is run on the fourth Saturday of every month, from 11 a.m.-12 noon. There is no cost to participate. To register, visit the Wilton Library website.