By Christine June, USAG Kaiserslautern Public AffairsFebruary 4, 2010
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern's main library on Landstuhl Regional Medical Center has gone to the dogs - but only from 3:30 to 5 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month.
Man's best friend is the star attraction of the garrison's new Paws & Pals reading program.
A first for Army Europe libraries, Paws & Pals pairs young readers with volunteer dogs to build children's confidence in reading, said Shawn Friend-Begin, the garrison's supervisory librarian.
"There's always a need for programs to assist children in becoming strong readers," Friend-Begin said. "One way to succeed in life is to be a good reader."
Close to 20 parents and their children, and three volunteers and their dogs participated in the first Paws & Pals held Jan.19 at the garrison's main library.
The next Paws & Pals will be Feb. 16, and four volunteers and their dogs are expected to be there, said Mike Colarusso, the garrison's librarian and manager for the main library on LRMC. Each child gets a one-on-one 15-minute session with one dog, said Colarusso.
The program is recommended for underage and under-grade level readers, said Kristin James, from the garrison's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation management finance section.
Keeping her children's attention was one of the aspects of this new program that really appealed to Rachelle Hitchler, who was reading "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to her four children, ages 6 months to 6 years.
Getting the attention was Mikey, a 7-year-old female mixed breed, as she lounged while Annika Hitchler, 6, and Bryce Hitchler, 3, petted her light reddish-brown and splashes of white fur.
"Big and fluffy," is how Annika described Mikey.
Bryce kept petting Mikey, waiting for his turn to read to her. He brought his own book, "Care Bears: How Does Your Garden Grow'"
"Woof! Woof!," barked Mikey.
"She wants you to scratch her belly," said Mikey's owner, Leah McCracken.
When Hitchler began reading, Mikey sat up and perked her ears, and all four children were quiet, and Bryce kept on petting the fluffy fur.
"Even when they are petting the dog, I know they are taking in every word I'm saying," said Hitchler. "It's hard sometimes to get children to sit down and pay attention, so it's nice to have an attention getter."
How this program got rolling was when James brought the idea up to Friend-Begin and Colarusso.
"My niece was in a library dog program back in the states, and she enjoyed reading and the fact that she got one-on-one time with a dog," said James, on why she wanted to start a program here.
Also, she said that her dog Maverick, an 8-year-old male Australian Shepherd, had been involved with other reading programs.
James is the one who is organizing volunteers and their dogs. What she is looking for in dogs for this program are those that have "basic canine good citizenship characteristics."