Florida children cuddle up and read with therapy dogs
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — The young girl sat across from the little doggie Buster and read to him.
Every few seconds, you would hear a “Woof Woof.”
Not from laid-back Buster - an 11-year-old Bichon Frise. But from 10-year-old Chancey Cogley.
“Woof Woof,” she said, reading from the children’s book “Biscuit Takes a Walk.” ″It’s Grandpa.” Then, she continued with the short story of the fictional dog Biscuit taking a walk with fictional grandpa.
Just a few minutes earlier, Chancey was reading another story to a 2-year-old basset hound named Poppy on Saturday at the Tryon Branch Library, part of the West Florida Public Libraries system. Chancey has read to the dogs many times before, as she’s practically grown up participating in the Pet Partners “Read With Me” literary program, which allows children to read to therapy dogs.
“This program has been part of her life since she was six months old,” said her father, Casey Cogley. “She grew up with this program.”
Pet Partners is an international organization that strives to improve the health and well-being of people by allowing them to bond with animals. The group uses animals - mostly dogs - to help people in nursing homes, schools, veterans groups and others to form that dog-human bond.
The group has been visiting area libraries since 2008 and brings therapy dogs - usually two at a time - to the Tryon Branch Library on the third Saturday of each month, and at the Southwest Branch Library on the fourth Saturday of each month. Times are 10 a.m. to noon. All dogs are with their owners/handlers and are on a leash. Pet Partners animals and their human volunteers undergo specific training before being sent out into the field.
Library employee Michelle Cogley is Chancey’s mother and is program organizer - one reason her daughter has been reading to dogs for most of her life. Cogley said anywhere from a half-dozen to 20 or so children - with parents and guardians, of course - show up for each Pet Partners session.
“I’ve seen kids come in afraid of dogs,” she said, recounting the story of one boy who made monthly visits with his cousin. “When he first came, he wouldn’t even come in the door.”
It took the boy six months to get comfortable enough where he would sit next to his cousin during the reading sessions. Soon, the boy was reading to the dog. A month later, “he even touched the dog,” Cogley said.
Little Gracie Kennedy, 6, sat down on the soft mat next to Buster to read him the children’s story “One is Enough” - about being an only child. (Gracie is not.)
The dog was flopped on his side, belly exposed, being rubbed by his human companion Brenda Rudolph, a Pet Partner volunteer.
After she read the story, Gracie rubbed the mellow dog’s belly too.
Gracie is only in first grade, but read like a seasoned veteran. How long has she been reading?
“Since I was little.”
Information from: Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com