GRAFENWOEHR, Germany Aca,!aEURc Sitting in the quiet library at Netzaberg Middle School, 11-year-old Jennifer Shimkus read aloud. Although no other students were around to hear it, Shimkus was not alone.

While she read, Sam, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, stared attentively as the story of "Treasure Island" unfolded from the lips of the sixth-grader. His long brown tail wagged back and forth waiting for the next sentence and a furry paw rested on Shimkus' leg. He may not have understood the storyline, but Sam was eager to listen.

This new program, "Pet Reading," began at the middle school earlier this month and allows students a 15-minute session to share a story with the canine volunteer.

Shimkus appreciates the nonjudgmental audience.

"Reading out loud helps me understand the story better," she said. "And Sam always listens."
Pet Reading has been proven to aid children with their comprehensive reading skills, according to Stacy Mercord, the school's librarian.

"It's a positive practice," said Mercord, adding that the program also improves reading fluency and word comprehension. She hopes the program will inspire students to read at least 15 minutes a day, perhaps to their own dogs at home.

"We want to instill fun reading habits and get the kids excited about books," said Mercord. "We are always looking for new ways to promote the importance of reading and this is something new that the kids really enjoy."

Sam is certified "listener" through American Humane and the Delta Society, an organization that helps people live healthier and happier lives by incorporating therapy, service and companion animals into their lives. The Delta Society is affiliated with the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program, which began in the Salt Lake City Library in November 1999 and promotes reading dogs in libraries and classrooms nationwide.]

With extensive training and testing, man's best friend can do a lot more than fetch and roll over.

Sam is a true professional and students flock to the library to share a story with him. He doesn't judge, he doesn't correct; he just listens.

"He helps the students build confidence in their reading skills," said Mercord.

Eleven-year-old Julia Foslin agreed.

"I feel more comfortable reading to Sam," said Foslin. "He doesn't care if I make a mistake."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16