West Virginia Dog's First Week as Volunteer at Library

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Gingerbread the Shih-Tzu visits Martinsburg, Virginia Public Library for the first time as a reading therapy dog. Gingerbread's handler, Jennifer Davies, was inspired by a Susan Mallery romance novel.

Gingerbread finally licked [the little boy's] ankle, and it was first grin I saw since he'd picked up a book.

Normally, dogs aren’t allowed in the library, but the last Tuesday of the month, no one stopped the seven-year-old Shih-Tzu from walking into the library in Martinsburg, West Virginia. In fact, Gingerbread was greeted with welcoming smiles. This was her first official day as a reading therapy dog. Over the next hour, five children – human children, that is – read to Gingerbread, and she rewarded them with kisses and cuddles.

As a reading therapy dog, Gingerbread provides a non-judgmental audience to children who have difficulty learning to read. She made reading a fun and positive experience for the children.

“Most of our readers were excellent,” says owner Jennifer Davies, “but one boy struggled for every word. Gingerbread finally licked his ankle, and it was first grin I saw since he'd picked up a book.”

Davies was inspired to look into volunteering with her dog at the library after she read Only Yours by Susan Mallery, a novel in which a therapy dog trainer visits the library in fictional Fool’s Gold.

“The second after I finished Susan Mallery’s book,” Davies says, “I did an internet search for ‘reading therapy dogs’ and discovered Wags for HOPE in my area. I needed something to fill my time that was not watching TV all the time, and this was perfect. Something that my dog and I could do together.”

Wags for HOPE is a non-profit organization in Frederick, Maryland that supplies animal therapy visitations to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospice and, of course, libraries. For the library program, they partner with Intermountain Therapy Animals in Utah, the organization that initially created the R.E.A.D.® (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) Program.

Including Gingerbread, there are currently three dogs and handlers who participate in the Martinsburg Public Library’s R.E.A.D.® Program. Children of any age are invited to come to the library at 6 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of every month to read a story to Gingerbread or one of the other dogs.

Dogs that participate in the R.E.A.D.® Program are certified for therapy work and must be mellow and well-behaved. They must be able to remain calm in different environments and around all sorts of people and medical equipment. For more information, to volunteer, or to donate, visit http://www.wagsforhope.org.

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Jenel Looney
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