Reading goes to the dogs
October 12, 2010
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - A little girl in a striped, sleeveless dress sat on the carpet, reading a book to a companion.
She pointed to each word in a book and enunciated each syllable.
Her companion listened intently, not uttering a sound, even when the girl paused at a new, unfamiliar word.
The girl was Hermosa Culver, 6, and her companion was Milo, a 2-year-old golden retriever. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Justin and Sandra Culver brought Hermosa to the Sgt. Yano Library, here, recently, to participate in the library's monthly "Read to the Dogs" program.
Hermosa's 15-minute session was up too soon. As she exited the reading room, she said that the program was "great."
"Hermosa has been waiting for months for this day," said her mother. "She has been looking forward to it."
Kara Schwartz, an Army spouse, said that the program helps her daughter, Sarah, 7, who has been participating in the program for about a year.
"Sarah looks forward to the program," Schwartz said. "The dog doesn't care if Sarah makes a mistake and isn't going to correct her. The dog shows unconditional love."
The University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, recently conducted a study of third-grade students who read out loud to dogs for 10-15 minutes, once a week, for 10 weeks. The study found that the students' reading skills improved by 12 percent over a 10-week program.
"If a child reads to a dog or cat, or anything that is not judgmental, (the animals) don't laugh," said Susan Leuhrs, founder and executive director, Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs.
"Dogs look like they're listening, so (children) kind of forget that (they) are stuttering or don't know the words," Leuhrs said. "The dogs are trained to work with the kids, sit quietly ... and to look at the book. The idea of the read program is to hook the kids to come into the library and read."
Leuhrs' organization started bringing therapy and service dogs to Sgt. Yano Library four years ago, after the library had shown interest in the reading program. On this particular day, four service dogs and their handlers accompanied Leurhrs to the library.
Leuhrs' dog, Kea, acted as a distractor while children waited their turn to read.
Some of the dogs have other jobs besides the reading program. Milo is a certified therapy dog and visits the wards at Tripler Army Medical Center. Milo's handler, Kim Lyons, said that he has been named a Red Cross Hero Dog.
Indy, short for Indiana Jones, is owned by Liane Otsuka, and is also a Red Cross volunteer dog that visits Tripler.
<b>Read to the Dogs</b>
Children who can read on their own can sign up for a 15-minute session to read to a trained, service dog. Sessions are available on a first-come, first-served basis. To register, call Sgt. Yano Library at 808-655-8002, or Aliamanu Library at 808-833-4851, or visit <a href="http://www.mwrarmyhawaii.com">www.mwrarmyhawaii.com</a>.
See more photos from Read to the Dogs on <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/usag-hi/sets/72157624812114491/">Flickr</a>.