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A dog is a kid’s best literary friend

Lily Ann Grillea, 2 1/2, cuddles with Bubba as she listens to other children read aloud.  - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Lily Ann Grillea, 2 1/2, cuddles with Bubba as she listens to other children read aloud.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

When Bubba walked into the Oak Harbor Library, he was an instant magnet for children. They flocked to his side with armloads of books and followed him to a ring of cushions near the children’s section.

The giant golden retriever and his owner, Vickie Hiday, sat as children gathered around, books at the ready for the program, K-9 Kids Read.

This is the fourth month that the Oak Harbor Library has hosted the K-9 Kids Read program, which offers an hour on the third Saturday of each month for children to read to a friendly, patient dog who loves to listen and never judges.

The next K-9 Kids Read will be held Saturday, Feb. 18 from 11 a.m. to noon at the Oak Harbor Library.

Reading to a dog is a safer environment for children than reading aloud in class because the dog, which is specially trained and certified, quietly listens without interrupting.

“There’s also that sense of confidence building when they have this dog that doesn’t correct anything,” said Jane Lopez-Santillana, children’s librarian at the Oak Harbor Library.

“Children’s services are geared toward early literacy so this was a nice fit,” Lopez-Santillana said, adding that this is an especially good time to gather interest in the program because the school district received an early literacy grant from the Department of Defense at the beginning of the school year. Lopez-Santillana has encouraged the schools to refer students to the program.

“Especially at Oak Harbor, with the military community, not only is this a sense of routine because they know the dog will be here, but dogs don’t judge. Dogs just sit there and take it all in,” Hiday said, adding that the exposure to a friendly dog is especially important in a military town because many people aren’t able to have dogs.

Also, children can have a positive interaction with a dog, which reduces dog anxiety in children, Hiday said.

“The kids get to cuddle and interact with dogs and improve their reading skills, and I get to show off my dog. I get to have my best friend do work with me at the library,” Hiday said, patting Bubba.

Nearly 10 children showed up to see Bubba Jan. 28. That was such a large number that the children didn’t get to read for 15 minutes each, which is the goal of the program. While Hiday promised to bring Bubba’s sister, Sage, to the February program and share treats for her 10th birthday, more specially trained human-dog teams are definitely needed, Hiday said.

The children were clearly excited to read as they sat close to Bubba and vied to be the one to begin.

Skyler Summers, 5, read first from “The Napping House” and Bubba listened quietly.  His mom, Kayla Danback, brought Summers because his teacher said it would be helpful as he’s learning to read.

It was also the first time for Kenna Chism, 8. She read from “101 Dalmations,” a story Bubba could relate to.

“It’s for fun and for her love of reading and love of dogs. It’s a way to bring the two together,” said her mom, Julie Chism.

Kenna Chism petted Bubba as the others read. After Lily Ann Grillea, 2 1/2, shared a picture book with Bubba, he laid his head in her lap as they all listened to another story.

After the program, a group of children stayed to pet and hug Bubba while their parents thanked Hiday for giving their children the meaningful experience.

“Girls just hate Bubba,” Hiday said, laughing. “He lives for this!”

Despite being as tall as some of the children, Bubba is a very calm, well-behaved dog, mostly due to his personality but also because of the intensive training and testing Hiday and Bubba went through to become a certified team through the Delta Society, a nonprofit dog certification agency that trains and screens volunteers so their pets can visit hospitals, nursing homes and children.

Bubba and Hiday had to show that Bubba could walk through a crowd, ignore dropped food and more, and that Hiday could work well with other people.

Hiday encourages community members to become human-animal teams that can fill the need for therapy animals. Hiday and her therapy dogs also spend time brightening the atmosphere at Whidbey General Hospital and various nursing homes.

“There’s a magic connection between people and doggies,” Hiday said.

She will hold a seminar for interested teams later this month and said people can contact her about the seminar or with questions about becoming a team at vhiday@gmail.com.

There are no breed specifications for becoming a therapy dog; Hiday said she sees a lot of labs and golden retrievers but she’s also seen chihuahuas, Australian shepherds and Hiday is currently training a Newfoundland, which will visit the library soon.

Becoming a team is time-consuming and requires hard work but for Hiday, it’s more than worth it.

“This is such a blessing,” Hiday said of the library event. “These people are so grateful. We need more family-friendly things in Oak Harbor.”

K-9 Kids Read is a Tales for Tails program sponsored by Dogs on Call, a volunteer organization that helps certified teams find opportunities to perform their volunteer work.

For information and help with the certification process, visit www.wix.com/dogsoncall/dogsoncall or contact 360-293-4675 or dogsoncall@gmail.com.

To find out how to receive training and register yourself and your dog as a team, visit the Delta Society’s website at www.deltasociety.org.

For information about K-9 Kids Read, call the Oak Harbor Library at 675-5115 or visit www.sno-isle.org. Kids’ next chance to read to a friendly dog is Saturday, Feb. 18, from 11 a.m. to noon.

 

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