If there’s anything that brings joy to the Internet, it’s uplifting stories about kids and dogs. And thanks to a library in Bellafonte, Pennsylvania, I have such a story to share with you today.
Centre County Library is known locally for holding fun events and kid-friendly activities, such as its upcoming pumpkin carving contest and Rubik’s Cube Club that meets on Wednesdays. But it’s the library’s favorite “employee” that makes this book-filled building truly unique.
Faolin is a peaceful black Scottish Terrier who reports for work at Centre County Library every Tuesday afternoon. His job? To sit patiently and quietly alongside kids as they practice their reading skills.
“I had heard about programs where children went to shelters to read to the animals,” says Laura Sarge, the children’s librarian at Centre County Library. “The animals were being comforted by listening to and see the children during their visits, and the fun of reading to an animal encouraged the children to read.”
And it’s a lot more than just fun, she notes.
“An animal isn’t going to judge you or correct you if you aren’t the best reader,” Sarge tells Babble, “so by reading to an animal a struggling or reluctant reader can grow confidence as they practice. Reading to an animal can distract a child from the anxiety of reading out loud by providing a comforting friendly ear.”
When Sarge began brainstorming ways to implement a similar program at her library, she immediately thought of Cheryl, a library volunteer who showed dogs.
“I asked her if any of her furry friends were certified service dogs — because if I was going to invite a dog into my library to be around children, I had to be sure that the dog could be trusted,” Sarge recalls. “Cheryl was thrilled! None of her dogs were therapy dogs but she had been wanting to pursue the certification. In a most serendipitous way, a spot in a local training session for therapy dogs opened up and Cheryl’s dog, Faolin, was able to be signed up for the class.”
And after some training and tests, Faolin officially became a volunteer in the children’s section of Centre County Library.
So what, exactly, did little Faolin need to do to land the gig? Trust me, it wasn’t easy: Cheryl, Faolin’s owner, tells Babble that he took a 13-part test given by what’s known as a TDI tester. And he had to pass the first 12 parts of it with flying colors before getting to the last one, which involved working with children.
“Faolin had already been trained in agility and obedience before taking the test,” she tells Babble, “but I had to teach him not to touch anything that fell on the floor or to take food from someone offering it to him. When he works with the kids he must be on leash at all times and is not allowed any food until the kids are gone.”
Needless to say, the kids love him. The program was recently highlighted in the Centre Daily Times, and shared stories of many of the kids who have benefitted from the comfort of having Faolin by their side as they read. One such reader was 7-year-old Dallas Flick, who the Times reports “grew more confident with every page he turned” while reading The Little Rabbit.
The program itself is such a simple, yet genius idea — one that I’m betting (and hoping) catches on in libraries across the country.
After all, animal therapy has proven effective in helping kids with autism as well as veterans struggling with PTSD. So why wouldn’t it be a great idea to use trained dogs in order to help kids who are nervous or reluctant to read? If the mere presence of a friendly, furry friend can help children calm down and feel more confident as they sound out words, I’m all for it.
Keep up the good work, Faolin! And thank you for being a friend and helping the kids of Bellafonte, Pennsylvania.