BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — Dogs earned the title of man’s best friend for a reason.
They are loyal, comforting and loving. As pets, they cuddle up at your feet, protect your home and really become part of the family. Some help farmers by guarding their flocks. Others help their masters track and hunt. Studies have shown that canine companions increase the lifespan of elderly people, as these furry quadrupeds lift their spirits, give them a greater will to live and take away feelings of loneliness.
Specially trained dogs guide the blind thought the many obstacles of everyday life. Police utilize them to sniff out drugs and aid in rescues. Now, even college students are benefitting from therapy dogs visiting or being stationed as stress-busting employees on campus.
They truly are amazing creatures that are able to assist us in so many ways.
Therapy dogs can also serve as the perfect listeners for children who are learning and perfecting their reading capabilities. For the past seven years, the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library has been hosting a program called Wagging Their Tails for Tales.
Two or three times a month, the library gets a visit from a therapy dog certified through Therapy Dog International, a volunteer group founded in 1976 to provide qualified handlers and therapy dogs for visits to various institutions. A total of 14 dogs have participated.
The goal of the program is to help children gain more confidence in their reading abilities and improve their overall skills. In order to excel in any academic setting, reading and comprehension are key to success.
“It ties in with everything we try to do; reading opens the world to you,” Youth Services Librarian Marybeth Hassett Murphy said. “A dog is not going to tell you to speed up, slow down, you said that wrong; a dog is all accepting and just there, an absorbent sponge with anything that you give to them.”
Each child who participates signs up for a 15-minute slot. When it is their turn, they head into the Activities Room, book in hand, sit next to the therapy dog and its owner, and start to read a story in an environment free of pressure, stress or finger-pointing. It’s a judgment-free zone.
Prior to his second session, 7-year-old Colin Thompson brought one of his favorite books to read to Luna, a beautiful white Lab: Dr. Seuss’ “There’s a Wocket in my Pocket.” To him, the experience is all gravy. “I love dogs and I love reading,” he said with a smile before excitedly dashing inside as soon as his name was called.
After saying hello to Luna, he plopped down next to her and began to turn the pages, occasionally glancing into her wide eyes between sentences. Luna listened intently, her head resting on her paws.
The next therapy dog visit will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 28.