PITTSTON — A few dogs stopped into the Pittston Library last Saturday morning. They didn’t have any books to return, and they didn’t prowl through the stacks looking for new reading material.
Instead, they were there for a relaxing hour or two on a blanket, some scratches behind the ears, and the odd biscuit from time to time.
And for the stories. Three therapy dogs visited the library so youngsters could read to them.
Neither the dogs — nor the youngsters — were disappointed.
Elias Mondlak, who was visiting his grandma for the weekend from his home in Philadelphia, curled up next to Violet and launched into “Big Dog, Little Dog.’
Violet, a rescue whose owner Maria Pino, of Dallas, calls “a collie-mix with maybe some golden retriever,” lounged on the blanket in the children’s section of the library, looking at the pictures while the 11-year-old read the story.
On another pair of blankets, shelties, Angie, a 7-year-old and Gracie, 4, enjoyed other books while youngsters read and fussed over the animals.
It was one of several events held by the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program in the area R.E.A.D began in 1999 in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the idea of helping kids improve their reading skills by reading aloud to therapy animals. The animals are non-judgmental reading companions and youngsters can read without fear of criticism. A side benefit of the program is that it brings youngsters to a love of books and reading.
The local program is under the directorship of Helene Skopek-Krygier, of Wilkes-Barre. She is also president of Pleasure of Your Company, which trains therapy dogs, and puts the animals through training paces before they can enjoy listening to stories.
Skopek-Krygier is the owner of the shelties, formally known as Shetland sheep dogs, who get regular visits for story times.
“We have a regular schedule of visits at four area libraries and a program at the First Presbyterian Church in Wilkes-Barre for youngsters who are reading-challenged,” she said. “I also visit schools in the Lehigh Valley area.”
The dogs have to have some basic obedience training before they can get bedtime, morning, afternoon or any other stories read to them. They also have to like children and have personalities that are comfortable going into new and different places.
Pino said she knew immediately Violet would fit into the program.
“She’s so laid-back, I decided she should be a therapy dog,” she said “She is so relaxed and she keeps me relaxed. And she’s smart.”
The relaxed animals also invite a lot of attention from library visitors, who stop hunting for their own reading materials and to spend a few moments offering love to the dogs.
And the animals help some youngsters overcome shyness.
Friends, Alana Craig and Isabella Franchetti, both 8 years old and both from Pittston, held back at first, preferring to watch what was going on. The animals didn’t cause their shyness. Alana said she has a dog at home.
The girls didn’t want to get in the way of what was going on. But after a bit of encouragement, they settled onto a blanket with Angie and launched into reading “Pinky and Rex and the Just-Right Pet.”
Skopek-Krygier said the animals usually prefer books with few words and lots of pictures to look at, but “Pinky and Rex” was a fairly long story. So she settled onto the blanket with the girls, and the three took turns reading. Angie loved every minute of it, even though she didn’t get the usual number of pictures to look at.
Over the course of the morning, the youngsters finished a book with one dog then got up to look for another story to read. New books in hand, they wandered among the blankets and settled in to read to another dog.
None of the dogs minded readings from different voices, as long as the story offered perhaps a pat on the head or, in Violet’s case, an occasional belly rub.
She snuggled next to Mondlak when he came back to the blanket with Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”
“This was always my favorite when I was little,” he said, even though now he likes adventure books, “especially when they have funny lines.”
His brother, 10-year-old Thanos, said he reads anything he can and is a “book buddy” in his school. He kept Gracie enthralled with the adventures of Curious George.