Children read to dog at Vancouver Community Library

Therapy dog's gentle presence encourages kids to pick up book, read out loud

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



On Wednesday, one of the dog days of summer, young readers waited their turn to read a book to Crunch, a golden retriever therapy dog at Vancouver Community Library.

His golden locks brushed and his tongue hanging out, Crunch sauntered into the children's section. He was welcomed with smiles, nods and wiggles.

The Fort Vancouver Regional Library District has offered the Read to the Dogs program for about four years.

"A lot of kids will read to the dog, but they're too embarrassed to read aloud otherwise," said Jacquelyn Keith, children's services librarian for Vancouver Community Library. "The dogs are not judgmental when the kids stumble over a word."

The popular program is offered year-round, Keith said. They usually have three therapy dogs, but Wednesday only one dog visited the third floor of the downtown library.

Crunch is owned by Michael and Scotty Richardson of Vancouver.

First in line to read to Crunch were Alison Fuller of Vancouver and her granddaughters, Sofia Arellano, 9, and Lola Fuller, 6. Each had chosen a book to read to Crunch.

Sofia and Lola sat on the floor. Crunch settled onto his red-and-white quilt, which sports doggy sayings such as "Bone to be wild."

Sofia opened "It's a Dog's Life" and began reading the story aloud. She followed the words with her finger. Every so often, she held the book toward Crunch so he could see the book's pictures. Her cousin, Lola, sat close enough to see the pictures too.

She struggled with some tough words: Lhasa apso, Pembroke Welsh corgi, schnauzer, dachshund.

Crunch's owner and handler, Michael Richardson, helped her with the hardest words.

Other kids chose a book and stood in the doorway while they waited their turn to read.

Elizabeth Pitts, a nanny, ushered her four charges into the room. Olivia Martinez, 8, and Kinder Kesmodel, 6, carried their books and sat next to Crunch. Brooksley Kesmodel, 4, and Brayden Richards, 4, flopped down too. All four kids began petting the golden retriever.

"Hair is going up in the air!" said Brayden, patting the dog vigorously.

"Yes, he's shedding," Michael Richardson said, nodding. "Don't pull too hard."

Kinder Kesmodel began reading "Tiny the Birthday Dog." The other three kids listened, but continued petting Crunch, who panted, lifted his head and then rested it on his quilt again.

Olivia read "Marley the Messy Dog."

Next Kinder read "I Love Snow." The other three children sat behind Crunch, petting him and listening to the story about children playing outside on a snowy day.

Crunch's eyes closed drowsily. Perhaps he was listening to the story and dreaming of a cold winter day when children build a dog out of snow.

The story ended and the kids stood up.

"You're good readers," Richardson said. "Thank you for being so nice to Crunch."

"Thank you, Crunch!" they said and hurried out the door.

Clutching a book, a grinning boy waited for his chance to read.