Once I finally had my 6-year-old son convinced that real dogs were allowed in our neighborhood bookstore (and that they weren't people in costumes), he was enthusiastic about giving the Reading with Rover program a try.
Reading with Rover brings trained therapy dogs into libraries, bookstores and other locations to offer children a calm and nonthreatening environment to help develop their reading skills. It's a simple concept that works well. Dogs are good listeners, and they don't interrupt to correct mispronounced words like pesky parents.
Our visit to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park on a recent evening was our foray into "Rover's" world. Upon checking in, my family was greeted by dogs and volunteers and handed a sheet of paper to get stamped with paw prints – a neat souvenir. Each dog-and-owner team (there are several) has a station, and kids are allowed to wander through and choose their spot to read, or choose their dog, as is the case with most kids.
We read books with the affable Hunter, Jasmine, and Pimba. I laughed out loud to hear my 4-year-old daughter make up her own animated stories to the pictures in the books. I wasn't sure whether it would be appropriate for her to come with us, but the set-up works well for kids on the cusp of reading, too. She is my animal lover, so I had no doubt this event would appeal to her.
Getting my son to do his daily reading homework can be a burden, but I felt like he was more focused here than at home. He got through a good 20 minutes of reading that night without blinking an eye. He is the type of kid who can't bear to disappoint, and even though we try to be encouraging, his beginning reading efforts sometimes leave him discouraged. Being able to pick out books he was interested in at the bookstore was also a plus.
The dogs were amazing. We don't own any pets, so that made the experience special for my kids. In all their encounters with other people's dogs, I'm quite sure they've never been around any that were so cool, calm and collected. And the dog owners were wonderful as well, even though their job is to take a backseat and let the animals do their thing. They are passionate about their dogs' healing power and were enthusiastic with the children.
The dogs we met don't only spend their time in bookstores; they also work with children in hospitals, at autism events, in classrooms where kids are struggling to read, and with seniors in assisted-living facilities. (By the way, if you have a pooch with a peaceful disposition, the program needs more volunteers.) One of the schools getting regular Reading with Rover visits is Woodmoor Elementary in Bothell.
"The difference in these kids from September to June is absolutely phenomenal," said Diana Trupiano, Reading with Rover event and volunteer coordinator. "They light up when the dogs get there. And when they read, their shoulders relax and their breathing slows. It's this magic little fuzzy animal that is making the difference."
Reading with Rover currently operates at various locations in the north end as well as in Redmond and Federal Way. The dogs are typically on site once or twice a month. The program operates with volunteers, and the events are free.
Want to try out Reading with Rover yourself? Here is a list of their upcoming events!
Taryn Zier is a freelance writer based in Lake Forest Park and mother of two children, ages 4 and 6.