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Reading buddies

Four-legged tutors are making a difference at the Aubrey Area Library.

Every Saturday, children ages 3 and up are invited to read aloud to therapy dogs Kissa and Sandie. Tail Waggin’ Tutors is a reading program of Therapy Dogs International.

The dogs alternate Saturdays. Kissa, a greyhound who likes to give kisses — a trait that led to her name — is owned by Pam Graham of Coppell. Sandie is a golden retriever owned by Stacy Rupert of Frisco.

The library has been hosting the program for two years. It started when a local woman contacted the library about bringing her dog to interact with children. When she was no longer available to come, the library contacted Therapy Dogs International.

Kisa and Sandie motivate and encourage children to read, said library director Kathy Ramsey.

“The nice thing about therapy animals is they have no judgment,” Ramsey said. “They encourage reading by wagging their tails.

“They’re very patient. They don’t correct your pronunciation or tell you to go ahead and turn the page or ask you questions about what’s on the page. They just patiently wait.”

The children can interact with the dogs as much or as little as they are comfortable with doing.

“Lay on the dog, kiss the dog, let the dog lick them, whatever,” said Ramsey.

According to the Tail Waggin’ Tutors brochure, animals help promote character traits such as caring, cooperation, empathy, gratitude, humanity, nurturance, patience, perseverance, respect, self-control, responsibility, self-esteem and service. Reading to the dogs helps build confidence for the readers. The dogs are trained to be around children.

“There are some rules for the owner. They have to be in control of the dog at all times,” said Ramsey.

Kissa likes to dress up for the children.

“She comes in a different color every week, and her owner matches,” said Allison Leslie of the Aubrey Area Library.

Sandie usually comes with just her sweet disposition, but she does dress up for Halloween.

Rupert said Sandie became a therapy dog because she has a laid-back disposition. She likes to be around children and also has made a connection with a special needs adult at a nursing home, Rupert said.

Sandie paid a visit to some Dallas police officers the Sunday after five officers were killed during a downtown demonstration. Rupert said it is important to balance out negative therapy with positive therapy. The strong emotions from traumatic situations can take their toll on the dogs, and the reading program is positive therapy, she said.

“A lot of times children will read to a dog before they’ll read to an adult,” Rupert said. “When a child reads out loud, it helps them with their fluency and understanding. I’ve noticed quite a bit of an improvement in different children in all programs that I’ve been in.”

Rupert and Graham didn’t know each other before starting the program at the library, but they have since become good friends. Rupert works with a golden retriever rescue and Graham with a greyhound rescue.

Rupert said there is a shortage of therapy dogs.

“We just don’t have enough to go around,” she said.

Ramsey said: “We wish that some people with well-behaved dogs in the Aubrey, Pilot Point area would go through the training and provide some local dogs. It’s always good for the young people — the children that need a little bit of help with their literacy if it’s someone local that they can see in the grocery store or at the softball game.”

There also is room for more readers in the special program.

“I think it’s one of those gems that not a lot of people know about,” said Leslie.

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