University City

Dogs make good listeners for those learning to read

Volunteer Carlene Gogolin and her certified therapy dog, Toby, a Shih Tzu, listen as Evelyn Acree, 6, reads Franklin Wants a Pet during the Paws to Read program at the University City Regional Library on May 18. Gogolin, a member of Therapy Dog International, has been volunteering her services at the library since 2007.
Volunteer Carlene Gogolin and her certified therapy dog, Toby, a Shih Tzu, listen as Evelyn Acree, 6, reads Franklin Wants a Pet during the Paws to Read program at the University City Regional Library on May 18. Gogolin, a member of Therapy Dog International, has been volunteering her services at the library since 2007. Marty Price

Reading to a dog is easy: they don’t judge you or laugh when you can’t read a word, they just accept you for who you are.

Perhaps that is why the weekly Paws to Read program has become such a popular event at the University City Regional Library, said Librarian Leanda Gahegan.

“The dogs put the children at ease as they build their reading skills and gain the confidence to read tougher material,” Gahegan said. “Usually when Carlene comes in with the dogs, there will be a line of children following them to the reading area.”

Charlotte resident and volunteer Carlene Gogolin has always been civic-minded; she required each of her children do some type of community service. When her daughter Clarissa Gogolin decided to train therapy dogs in 2005, they didn’t know how tough it would be.

After training brother and sister Shih Tzus Toby and Tessie for about a year, the Gogolins took the dogs to be tested to become certified therapy dogs.

The criteria is tough, with the dogs having to pass several skills tests relating to people: tasks such as not reacting to loud noises, ignoring food and following commands. If they miss one test, they can’t be certified.

Toby and Tessie failed, but, undaunted, the two went back to training, and both passed the next time.

In 2007, the Gogolins began volunteering with the the University City Regional Library.

In addition to the Paws to Read program, the Gogolins take their dogs to visit the elderly and participate in Paws for Exams at UNC Charlotte.

“They never fail to amaze me,” said Carlene Gogolin said of the dogs. “They know when it is Monday and get excited about coming when I am trying to get them ready,” she said.

Though the Paws to Read program is geared for children, no one is turned away. “I’ve even had adults come and ask if they could read to the dogs; we never say no,” said Gogolin.

The program has been instrumental in helping Patrick Cavanaugh, 17, who has autism spectrum disorder, to read, said his mother, Cindy Cavanaugh. The Cavanaughs have been coming to the library program for a little more than three years, and Cindy Cavanaugh can see the difference, she said.

“When he first came, he wouldn’t read, but now he is reading at a first- to second-grade level,” said Cavanaugh, who home-schools Patrick.

“This has motivated him to read,” she said. “The consistency of having a relationship with the dogs and Carlene is perfect for him. Carlene always pushes him to read a new book,” she said.

Participants sometimes have to wait their turn to read if the crowds are big, but everyone gets a chance. The program is supposed to end at 7:30 p.m., but they usually stay until closing at 8 p.m. because no one wants to stop, said Gahegan.

Marty Price is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email him at martyprice53@gmail.com.

Want to go?

The Paws to Read program is 6:45-7:30 p.m. Mondays, excluding holidays, at the University City Regional Branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, 310 East W.T. Harris Blvd. For information, visit www.cmlibrary.org/Locations/branches.asp?id=22.

The Paws to Read program is offered at other library branches by other volunteers. Check the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library website for other locations and times at www.cmlibrary.org.

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