Reading aloud to an audience can be an especially frightening experience for some people — children and adults — who are still developing or are working to improve their literacy skills.
To help allay those fears, the Lompoc Public Library is offering a pair of friendly — and fuzzy — listeners.
Through the library’s Paws to Read Program, patrons are able to further their reading skills by sharing stories with therapy dogs Donny and Tammy, who travel to the library each Monday afternoon with Jean MacLean, a library volunteer and the dogs’ owner.
Lompoc Library Director Sarah Bleyl referred to the program as “something special,” and MacLean and other library staff said they have seen firsthand the positive benefits that the dogs bring to their readers.
“I had one girl that came to read to them for about two years and she could hardly read two words when she first started,” said MacLean, who has been providing therapy dogs at the library for at least eight years. “I think she’s in third grade now, and in those two years she has caught up with her class.”
She mentioned another young boy who regularly read to the dogs and went on to advance three levels beyond his class in reading skills.
“So it helps,” MacLean said.
Donny, an 11-year-old whippet who has been with MacLean since he was 8 weeks old, is the veteran of the current team. His partner in the program is Tammy, a 6-year-old that MacLean said she believes is a terrier-poodle mix. Tammy has been with MacLean since she was 14 months old.
Both dogs are very accomplished.
Tammy, according to MacLean, has 24 different American Kennel Club titles, while Donny has 13. Those include honors in obedience and agility, among others.
Both dogs have the "Distinguished" title on their service vests, which is only awarded by the AKC when a dog has completed 400 therapy visits.
The dogs show their discipline during the reading sessions as they sit or lay down and at least appear to be interested in the stories they are told.
Jess Jackson, an assistant in the library’s youth services department, said the dogs really seem to make a connection with the readers.
“Children love the dogs,” she said. “They’re always saying hi, and Tammy and Donny are very friendly and well-disciplined. And they also attentively listen to the stories. So they’ll look directly at the person reading and just absorb the interactions with that person.”
Tammy and Donny, who are licensed and insured through the national Love on a Leash organization, offer therapy beyond the library.
“We do this library once a week and we do the Chumash Learning Center once a month,” MacLean said. “And then we also do the assisted living convalescent care facilities and sometimes schools if the schools call and want us to visit.”
The program is offered at the Lompoc Public Library year-round, though there are weeks when the dogs are unavailable, typically during August and December, Jackson said.
The Paws to Read Program is one of the few offered by the Lompoc Public Library that requires appointments, which are offered in 15-minute blocks from 3 to 4 p.m. Mondays.
Anyone interested in reading or having their children read to the dogs is encouraged to make an appointment by calling the library at 805-875-8781. Appointments can also be made by reaching out through the library’s social media outlets or by visiting the library in-person at 501 E. North Ave.
Jackson said she’s hopeful that people, particularly kids, will give it a shot.
“Typically, with this type of program, it really is what the children bring to it,” she said. “Sometimes kids will come in and won’t be able to read a word out loud. By the time they’ve gone through multiple sessions, they’re able to read simple sentences and they get more and more advanced. There’s something about reading to a dog that builds confidence in their abilities, and just through their practice and repetition they build those skills.”