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Reading eye dogs

Sometimes learning to read can be hard, doggone it! But some canine companions promise not to judge you if you falter over a word or two, and they are very good listeners.

The Park City and Summit County Libraries’ R.E.A.D program, or Reading Education Assistant Dogs, allows children to read with Intermountain Therapy Dogs for 20 minutes each week to help with reading difficulties or even get to be more comfortable around dogs.

"You try to make it fun to ignite the passion for learning," said Kathy McNulty, whose Akita Toshi is a therapy dog at Intermountain Therapy. Toshi knows how to turn the pages of the books with her nose, which she learned because McNulty would hide treats under the next page.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Grace Symons was fascinated with Annie Mae, the Red Bone Coon Hound. According to Symons’ mother, Brenda Lightfoot, Symons would read to their dog until it passed away two months ago.

"Annie is non-judgmental. She doesn’t laugh. She doesn’t make fun. She just listens," Annie’s owner Jan Nemcik said. The four-year-old hound has been a therapy dog for three years, working at schools in Park City during the school year and at the library during the summer. In some classrooms, teachers use reading with Annie as a reward.

Jonah Hetrick, 7, read in a quiet voice from the Magic Treehouse Series to the gray and white Australian Shepherd, Bob Gulliver and his owner Jean Glaser. Hetrick has been reading to dogs at the library for two years and likes that "he’s quiet."

"It’s certainly peaceful for him to come here," Hetrick’s father Steve said.

Bob Gulliver, who turns 9 next month, is also a therapy animal at hospitals in Salt Lake City. He even has his own business card which Glaser hands out to parents and kids at the library.

"It’s a good way to socialize the kids with the dogs," she said.

The Summit County Library will continue to host the R.E.A.D. program on Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. through Aug. 7. Sign ups must be made in advance by calling 435-615-3900.

R.E.A.D. dogs also visit the Park City Library on Tuesdays through July 15, from 10 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. Reservations can be made by calling 435-615-5600.

"I think its just a great way for the kids to practice their reading out loud with a gentle correction as opposed to having to read in front of all their peers at school. And its fun," said Heather Reynolds, youth services librarian at the Park City Library.


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