Dogs help children practice reading skills at Evanston Public Library


Zoe Malin/Daily Senior Staffer

Registered therapy dog Cassidy is an 11-year-old German Shepard. She has participated in Tail Waggin’ Tutors since November 2019.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Children weren’t the only ones who participated in story time at Evanston Public Library on Feb. 4. Cassidy, an 11-year-old German Shepard, and Zoe, a 12-year-old Cocker Spaniel, were also in attendance.

The dogs listened to children recite picture books as a part of Tail Waggin’ Tutors, a program that provides attendees with a relaxed environment to practice reading skills. Leigh Kennelly, early learning and literacy librarian, said children feel encouraged by the dogs to read aloud.

“Some of the children are struggling readers and feel more comfortable practicing with the dogs,” Kennelly said. “It’s a non-judgmental situation.”

Tail Waggin’ Tutors is a program run by Therapy Dogs International, a non-profit organization. It arranges for therapy dogs to visit institutions across the country, like hospitals and schools. Dogs are accompanied by their owners during events and have to pass a test administered by the organization to become a registered therapy dog.

Kennelly said a former Therapy Dogs International volunteer who lived in the area brought Tail Waggin’ Tutors to the city. The volunteer approached the library about becoming a location that hosts the program. Ever since, different therapy dogs have participated with their owners depending on their availability.

EPL has hosted Tail Waggin’ Tutors for about eight years. The program, designed for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, typically runs four times annually for four weeks.

During EPL’s most recent Tail Waggin’ Tutors event, children gathered around Cassidy and Zoe in two sessions from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. They took turns reading the dogs books while petting them.

Evanston resident Wendy Israel joined Therapy Dogs International ten years ago. She registered her dog Cassidy with the organization, and they often visit nursing homes together.

Israel and Cassidy have participated in Tail Waggin’ Tutors since November 2019. Israel, a retired school teacher, said she loves watching children interact with her dog.

“Cassidy is a people-person,” Israel said. “The kids aren’t intimidated or shy around her. They make each other happy.”

Kennelly said Tail Waggin’ Tutors is particularly special for children who do not have dogs of their own. She has talked to families who cannot have dogs due to allergies or because they live in a building with a no-pet policy. Tail Waggin’ Tutors gives kids an opportunity to spend quality time with dogs in an educational manner.

“Picking up a book and starting to read is not the easiest thing for kids,” Kennelly said. “Being around the dogs can make reading come more naturally.”

Deb Mucha volunteers for Therapy Dogs International with her dog Zoe. She learned about the library’s Tail Waggin’ Tutors program after an email was sent out by the organization. She said she immediately signed up. Mucha said volunteering for Tail Waggin’ Tutors has been one of the greatest volunteer experiences.

“When the kids begin reading, they’re often quiet, but grow to be louder and more confident,” Mucha said. “That’s exactly what I hoped this program would do for children.”

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