Each Tuesday, my 6-year-old daughter has a request.
She asks if she can go read to the dog at the library.
When I tell people this, I often get the same reaction - a raising of eyebrows and quizzical look.
However, Madeline's idea isn't crazy.
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Each Tuesday, the Davidson Public Library hosts the Paws to Read program, where therapy dogs listen patiently as young children practice their reading skills.
The idea began four years ago, when Lake Norman resident Tauron Ferguson's mother-in-law was involved in a serious car accident. She spent time recovering in a rehabilitation facility in Florida, where therapy dogs were used to provide patients with comfort and companionship.
"As I saw my mother-in-law go through her recuperation, I realized how rewarding it was to her and other patients to have these dogs come in," she said.
When Ferguson adopted her English setter, Dudley, three years ago, she took him to puppy training at PetSmart. She thought Dudley's gentle temperament might make him a good therapy dog, defined as a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes and schools or those under stress.
The instructor agreed. Ferguson brought Dudley to complete advanced and canine good citizen training, making him a certified therapy dog recognized by Therapy Dogs International.
Ferguson began bringing Dudley to visit patients in hospitals, but also wanted him to be comfortable around children.
Ferguson is the mother of three sons, the youngest having special needs, and also works in the Mooresville Graded School District as an Exceptional Children's assistant teacher. She watched the positive affect that Dudley had on her son and students, especially those struggling to read.
There has been much research into how therapy dogs can help both struggling and emergent readers. The premise is that dogs are nonjudgmental and won't criticize mistakes, which makes the process more fun and relaxing.
"Two years ago, I called Beverly Johnson at the Davidson branch and asked if I could volunteer to bring Dudley and do a program," Ferguson said. "We tried it out, and it worked beautifully."
For the first year, Ferguson and Dudley came to the library every Tuesday afternoon, and there were days when a group of seven or eight children were waiting for them. Ferguson later enlisted the help of Sandy Riddle and her dog, Sadie, and they began alternating weeks.
Many of the children are repeat visitors.
"Once kids have read to Dudley, they'll come back week after week," Ferguson said.
She noted that she has seen marked improvement in many of the repeat readers. Some come in and simply show Dudley a picture book or tell him a story. "Whatever makes that particular child successful," she said.