Bailee Chelberg sat on a carpeted floor at the Waupaca Area Public Library reading books about dogs.
As she read about four-legged characters with names like Max and Clifford, she held the books just so to make sure that her reading audience could see the pictures.
Seated on a chair was Jim Hardin. He helped her out with words she did not know and smiled encouragingly as Chelberg read.
But the real center of attention during this reading session was Hardin’s golden retriever, Bachelor.
It was Bachelor that she was there to read to.
“I wanted to read to a dog, because I don’t have a dog and wanted to see a dog and read,” Chelberg said.
She enjoyed her reading session with Bachelor, and plenty of other children are also having fun reading to dogs this summer.
In fact, the library has a sign-up sheet for it, and it’s full.
“Everyone wants to read to the dogs,” said Sue Abrahamson, who is the children’s librarian.
In all, the Tail Waggin’ Tutor sessions will run six weeks this summer.
The program runs from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays – with the exception of Friday, July 1. It began on June 10 and concludes on July 22.
Two dogs visit the library for each of the sessions. A total of six children get to read to dogs each of the weeks.
One dog is in one of the library’s meeting rooms, and the other dog is in the other room. Each child reads to a dog for 20 minutes, which means three children read to one of the dogs, and three children take turns reading to the other dog.
The dogs’ handlers are also in the rooms during the sessions, and parents are invited to stay and listen.
Tail Waggin’ Tutor is a program of Therapy Dogs International. The point is to encourage children to read by providing a listener who is nonjudgmental, not to mention furry.
“Dogs are so accepting and so patient. It’s just really great,” Abrahamson said.
This is not the first time the library has offered such a program.
“We did this a couple years ago when the theme (for summer reading) was animals,” she said. “We had the therapy dogs come.”
This year, Beth Schmidt contacted Abrahamson about doing a program again.
Schmidt and her certified therapy dog, Hershey, visit St. Michael’s Hospital and Oakridge Senior Center, both in Stevens Point. During the school year, she and Hershey, who is a border collie mix, also go to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club in Plover.
Schmidt adopted Hershey in 2004 and knew she would be a good therapy dog. Schmidt retired in 2010, making it the right time to go through the process of having Hershey become a certified therapy dog.
“It’s proven that it works. The kids relax. Hershey, being so calm, is really good for this,” Schmidt said of the reading program. “It’s a great way to share your pet with somebody. My mission is to share Hershey’s wonderful personality with as many people as possible.”
Schmidt made the arrangements for two dogs to visit Waupaca’s library.
Hardin’s dog, Bachelor, became a certified therapy dog about 2 1/2 years ago. Bachelor is one of nine golden retrievers that Hardin and his wife, Ellen, have. And, like Hershey, Bachelor has the perfect personality for being a therapy dog. Bachelor also visits St. Michael’s Hospital, as well as a nursing home in Plover and during the school year, Bannach Elementary School in Stevens Point.
“I love it. It’s great,” Hardin said.
He knew people who took their dogs to hospitals and after retiring from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he taught wildlife management, decided he wanted to do the same thing.
In order to be certified, a dog must have already gone through obedience training and must pass a temperament test. They need to be good around people of various ages and around people who are in walkers or wheelchairs. Dogs also must be at least a year old before they can be certified.
Bachelor, who is 3 1/2, is the Hardin’s only certified therapy dog, but Hardin said they have a puppy that he can see also has the right personality for this.
Abrahamson said many of the children participating in the program choose to read books about dogs – to the dogs.
“The kids are so cute. They’ll read, and then, they will show the pictures to the dogs,” she said. “It’s just fun. I would highly recommend schools and libraries everywhere to do this. It gives kids confidence without judgment.”