Therapy dogs star at North Shelby Library’s Homeschool Hangout

Hand in Paw therapy dog Simon gets love from kids during the North Shelby Library’s Homeschool Hangout on May 18. (Reporter Photo/Molly Davidson)

Hand in Paw therapy dog Simon gets love from kids during the North Shelby Library’s Homeschool Hangout on May 18. (Reporter Photo/Molly Davidson)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

NORTH SHELBY—In addition to the regular patrons, a few four-legged visitors stopped by the North Shelby Library on May 18. Three therapy dogs and their handlers joined Homeschool Hangout to share their training process, volunteer work and spread joy to local students.

Dogs and handlers Sally and Cindy Bowman, Chivas and Tina Currie and Simon and Margie Little volunteer with Hand in Paw, a local therapy dog organization. The dog-human teams visit schools, nursing homes, hospitals and more.

Being a therapy dog or a handler is no easy task. Training extends far beyond the typical “sit,” “come” and “stay” commands. Therapy dogs must be comfortable in a range of settings and with a range of people, they are not supposed to react when they see another dog and they must remain calm while being petted and touched.

The dogs don’t do all the work, handlers play an important role too. They regularly bathe and groom their dogs before each therapy visit. They also must be attuned to both the needs of the people they’re serving as well as their dogs.

During the Homeschool Hangout program, kids learned about the jobs therapy dogs do and then got a chance to play and interact with the dogs.

“Animals are always a big hit,” Librarian Kristy Hearn said of the program. “My criteria (for choosing programs) has been: Does it interest me? Is it promoting community togetherness?…And is it educational?”

While the May 18 visit was part of the library’s Homeschool Hangout program, Hearn said she hopes to see the dogs become regular visitors at the library through a Sit, Stay, Read program.

Hand in Paw’s Sit, Stay, Read program is designed to encourage and build confidence in reluctant readers. Instead of reading in front of peers or an adult, students can build their skills by reading aloud to a dog.

“We have so many reluctant readers that come in,” Hearn said. “Bringing the animals in, that bypasses their anxiety and helps them relax.”

Hearn has personal experience with the program and its successes. Her own son jumped two reading levels through the program, she explained.

“It very much builds their confidence,” Hearn said.

Hearn said she hopes to see the therapy dogs become part of the library’s tools to help children of all ages learn and grow.

“It’s the most natural extension (of our resources),” Hearn said. “In the Children’s Department, we are trying to bring up a generation of readers and learners.”