A furry tale

Four-legged friend lends ear to help children

Emily Orzechowski, 9, of Prospect, pets Flower Girl, a therapy dog, during a reading therapy session Oct. 6 at the Prospect Library. The library is running a Reading Therapy Dog program through mid-December. –LUKE MARSHALL

PROSPECT — In the Prospect Public Library, reading has gone to the dogs.

On Saturday afternoon, Emily Orzechowski, 9, of Prospect, read in a clear, confident voice to Flower Girl, a therapy dog. Flower Girl, for her part, sat on a blanket on a table, looking at Emily as if trying to comprehend what she is reading.

“I like it a lot,” said Emily about reading to Flower Girl. “I think it’s fun.”

Flower Girl, along with her owner Helen Betts of Waterbury, visited the library for the library’s Reading Therapy Dog program.

The program has been running on and off since March, Assistant Library Director Lisa Murno said.

“I think it’s going very well,” Murno said.

Murno said the program is very popular and that there is a steady stream of attendance.

“We are finding that people are expecting it now,” Murno said.

Murno said the program is not only popular, it also is helpful. She pointed to the case of one boy, now in third grade, who comes regularly and has seen a marked improvement in his reading level.

The program, which is 25 minutes long per session, allows a child to read aloud to a dog in the quiet program room of the library. According to Therapy Dog International’s website, by reading aloud to a dog, all threats of judgment are put aside.

Deborah Orzechowski, Emily’s mother, said she’s noticed an improvement in her daughter’s reading skills since she’s been participating in the program.

“I think the reading aloud and being with the therapy dog helps,” Deborah said.

Deborah said Emily never wants to miss a chance to go to the library and read to the therapy dog.

“Any time they have a signup at the library she always asks me to go and wants to volunteer with the dogs,” Deborah said. “She loves dogs.”

Flower Girl is not just any dog, though. She is a fully licensed therapy dog, which not only covers reading therapy but other therapeutic programs such as visiting hospitals.

Flower Girl, who is just over 4-years-old, began training to be a service dog when she was only 9 months old, Betts explained.

In order to be a therapy dog, Flower Girl had to undertake a variety of obedience classes and pass the Canine Good Citizen test from the American Kennel Club, she said.

“Once you take that test, you may take the therapy dog test,” Betts said.

She explained the test includes what the dog has worked on plus being accustomed to any noise that might be heard in the hospital, whether it is yelling, machine noise, or the clatter of dishes and bedpans.

“Any type of noise you would hear in a hospital, the dog has to withstand that,” Betts said. “Once they pass that test, they are certified and allowed to go into hospitals, convalescent homes, school, and libraries.”

Betts began Flower Girl’s training at 9 months old and nine months later, she was certified.

“That’s very, very young to start,” Betts said.

However, Betts said she knew Flower Girl had the right disposition to be a therapy dog, even at that young age.

The library will continue the Reading Therapy Dog program through mid-December. The program is for all children of all ages who need practice with reading fluency and reading aloud. Registration for 25-minute sessions is ongoing. For more information, call the library at (203) 758-3001.

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