WIESBADEN, Germany -- Penny the dog is a senior mutt that you could only tell was twelve years old if you noticed the little gray hairs on her snout. Her brown coat was freshly brushed and shiny, looking her best for the event ahead. She lounged in the children's section of the Wiesbaden Library to await her young visitors that would be reading aloud to her.
Kids stared at her as they came through the library, sometimes shyly peeking from behind a bookshelf or sometimes stomping right up to greet her. Noticing their curiosity, Red Cross volunteer and Penny's owner, Christopher Bowen, asked the kids if they would like to read to Penny, and almost every time, the kids were excited to grab a book.
The Pets and Warriors (PaWs) program held an event for young kids to read aloud to a volunteer dog in Clay Kaserne, Wiesbaden, Germany October 2, 2019. This program was created by the American Red Cross which enables Soldiers and their families to find support wherever and whenever needed. In this case, it is to make reading fun for children.
"The Pets and Warriors program is designed for pets, dogs, cats, and all sorts of animals to get them trained and certified," said Bowen. "Then we can bring them into hospitals, clinics, libraries and schools which helps people relax, feel good, and comfort them."
Although Penny is not a certified comfort or service animal, she passed the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test, sponsored by the American Kennel Club, which proves she can behave well in public, be patient and be friendly to strangers.
Bowen said Penny has always been good with kids. It was part of the reason Bowen decided to volunteer Penny for the program. She was excited to be around the kids and the kids seemed to love being around her, Bowen said.
Young siblings Patrick and Clara, said they were very excited to meet and read to Penny after they had finished their homework.
"When the kids come here to read to Penny, it helps build their confidence in reading," Bowen said. "If they get stuck on a word, I will help them. Plus, a lot of the time, families don't have pets so it gives them the chance to play with a dog. But most importantly, what kids get out of it is improving their self-confidence and ability to read."
Bowen began the read aloud program as part of the PaWs program roughly ten months ago and hosts it twice a month at the Wiesbaden Library. Although Bowen would like to take a break during the holidays, he does hope to continue the program for as long as he and Penny are in Germany.
"We, me and Penny, both try and give back to the community through the Red Cross and other organizations doing whatever we can," Bowen said. "Her part is coming here and letting kids read to her and play with her, and as long as she gets some treats out of the deal, she's happy."
Children began showing up at the Wiesbaden Library right after school around 4 p.m.. Most of the kids were there to finish up their homework, but they also had the chance to play and read with Penny. The Canine Good Citizen awardee, Penny, was the star of the show and accepted hugs and rubs from school children in the span of the one-hour program.
While Bowen does receive a few scheduled visits, most of the children that came up to Penny were not scheduled. But that didn't matter to Penny or Bowen. As long as a few kids got the chance to read, it was a successful day for the pair of Red Cross volunteers, Bowen said.
In addition to the reading program, PaWs visits to the Wiesbaden Hospital, schools, and even the Child Development Center. There are other dogs just like her, and through the CGC test in Germany, many more dogs can be qualified for programs such as PaWs.
The PaWs read aloud program is an ongoing program that is free and open to the public. If anyone wishes to sign up for the program or enrolling a qualified pet, contact the Wiesbaden Red Cross Center for more information and email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.