The Jones Library in Amherst finished a four week series of events entitled "Read to a Dog!" on Tuesday, July 28. The program was designed to help children ages 5-10 improve their reading skills by practicing aloud to Hachi, a Bright Star Therapy Dog.
In addition to training therapy dogs specializing in listening and classroom aid, Hachi's owner Paulette Levchul works as an educator in developing reading skills for children from kindergarten through the sixth grade. She often brings Hachi into the classroom, but at the Jones Library, he has a more relaxing duty.
Hachi lays on a mat surrounded by bean bag chairs. Next to him is a desk displaying all of his "favorite books" (all featuring a canine protagonist), which the children are encouraged to choose from. The event is usually held in the Kids Biography Room on the second floor, but do to Hachi's fear of thunderstorms, the last event was moved to the lower level of the children's section.
Levchul explained that reading to dogs is beneficial for children because it gives them a chance to practice reading aloud in an environment where they do not have to feel embarrassed or self conscience if they make mistakes or feel as though they are reading slowly. Reading to dogs and shelter animals is becoming increasing popular as studies continue to prove the benefits of doing so. Also, the idea of getting to spend time with animals gets children excited about reading, and encourages them to practice.
Hachi is named after the famously loyal Japanese dog, Hachiko.
"Read to a Dog!" was held every Tuesday through the month of July. Though the program has ended, it will mostly likely return within the next couple of months, so keep your eyes peeled for him on the Jones Library events calendar.
For more information on therapy dogs, visit the Bright Star Therapy Dogs website, or the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D) program through TherapyAnimals.org.