Children and dogs meet at the library

PAT FRIDGEN
Olivia Betts, 9, reads to Piper while Josiah Fisler, 10, waits his turn. Owner Roxanne Davenport, herself a teacher, sets aside her instructional skills and simply listens as well.

Two big dogs lay quietly in the children's room at the Lilian S. Besore Memorial Library, listening to youngsters read. Neither they nor the children understood that the animals were providing an educational service. The dogs are part of READS, Reading Education Assistance Dogs for Students, a program of Kindly Canines.

The library sponsors visits from the Chambersburg-based group monthly. The canines come the third Thursday of each month during the school year with their handlers, who are their owners.

"The dogs are non-judgmental listeners for the kids to practice reading to," said children's librarian Rose Trombetta. She holds three 20-minute sessions each night. The readers register in advance.

Carol Rinehart brought SoCo, a Great Dane her family rescued from a shelter. The huge dog was quiet and calm but stood and walked around her once, then reclined again on command. The child just kept reading aloud. Rinehart said SoCo loved to be petted, and couldn't understand why the children didn't read and pet at the same time.

Roxanne Davenport dressed Piper, a border collie-black lab mix, in a vest and sunglasses. Piper lazily watched the activity in the room, then stretched out on the floor. The child kept reading.

Both dogs are registered with Therapy Dogs, Inc. The volunteer organization visits schools, libraries, nursing homes, hospitals and Boys and Girls clubs. The Chambersburg club has about 40 members.

"We're very much in demand," Davenport said. "We only commit to what we can feasibly do."

Besore normally had more dogs in attendance, but other members were scheduled at a second location the same evening. The teams operate under the philosophy of "changing tears to smiles and fear to wonder", and want to make life a little nicer for people of all ages and needs.

Kindly Canines started in 2003 under Marti Heater, who accidently discovered the value of animal visits in 2001 when a relative was in a nursing home. She became qualified to be a tester/observer to screen for gentle dogs to meet the guidelines of Therapy Dogs and then to be admitted to her newly-founded group, Kindly Canines.

They welcome new members and anyone interested can call Heater at 532-7691. Her website is www.kindlycanines.org

Trombetta has watched the interaction of the children, who come back month after month. "I do think the kids develop relationships with the dogs," she said with a smile. And they get to go home with a pawtograph.