One Saturday a month, the Central Library’s Children’s Library hosts a very special visitor – an 11-year-old fluffy white Samoyed named Harvard Dangerfield. Harvard, accompanied by his owner Dana Sullivan, comes to help children practice reading as part of the Reading Pup program, open to children ages 3-12 and their caregivers. Though Harvard can’t help sound out or explain the meaning of words, he can provide something equally valuable: a patient, gentle demeanor that allows children to read aloud without fear of correction or judgement.
A Reading Pup program begins with a brief introduction by a Children’s Librarian to Harvard and his work (he also visits elementary schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, among others), followed by a dog-themed story time. Then, the children in attendance take turns reading to him. The youngest visitors with no reading skills often tell him stories, while the older children read from a selection of books about dogs provided by the library or ones that they have brought themselves. Harvard calmly and happily listens and greatly enjoys socializing with the kids; according to Sullivan, the Children’s Library is one of his favorite places to visit.
In addition to providing children with an encouraging and nonjudgmental audience, he also gives them the opportunity to grow comfortable interacting with dogs. Sullivan and the librarians help by showing the children how to best greet him.
“His fluffy fur provides a sensory experience for young children, and older children enjoy giving him a hug or feeding him treats,” said Children’s Services Team Leader Laura Koenig. “Parents and caregivers especially like knowing that he is a certified therapy dog who will be patient and gentle with children who are still learning how to safely interact with dogs.”
Other Boston Public Library locations also host therapy dogs as part of their children’s programming. The Charlestown Branch, for instance, offers the Read to a Dog program with Gus, a one-and-a-half-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. On a cloudy afternoon in late March, Gus brightens up the branch with his cheerful and gentle demeanor. He perches on a cushion next to his owner Candice Deluty while Annabell, a six-year-old, reads him the book Biscuit Loves the Library. Then, he listens as ten-year-old Tess reads from the chapter book The Underneath. According to Eileen Whittle, the Charlestown’s Children’s Librarian who organized the event, therapy dogs are crucial to helping kids build fluency in oral reading in a positive, open environment.
Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from Gus’s and Harvard’s library visits. As Deluty says, Gus cheers up everyone, including adults and the library staff. Sullivan adds that age has no effect on a person’s response to Harvard, as he is met with squeals of delight from the young and old wherever he goes. Visit our calendar at www.bpl.org/calendar to find an upcoming therapy dog program for your child, including visits from Maggie at the Mattapan Branch every other Tuesday.