Children practice reading to four-legged friend
Education • Trainer says dogs aren't judgmental for kids learning to read.
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Holladay • Lucy is a good listener who loves to be read to, especially if the storyteller scratches her belly and feeds her treats every few pages.

A 4-year-old pit bull/boxer mix, Lucy drops by the Holladay Library every other Saturday to sit quietly while children read to her.

"The idea is that dogs aren't judgmental like people are," said Caitlin Thueson of Therapy Animals of Utah (TAU), who owns and trains Lucy, "so it's not quite as intimidating to read to a dog if you're learning to read."

TAU, which is affiliated with Delta Society, has formed a partnership with the Salt Lake County Library System to send Lucy and other dogs to various branches through its "TALES (Therapy Animals Literacy Education) with TAU" program.

"The bottom line is it encourages reading, and that's what we're about," said Bobbie Pyron, Holladay Library's youth services librarian. "Plus, we just love having a dog in the library. It keeps everybody happy."

Another group, Intermountain Therapy Animals, used to bring a Newfoundland named Bucky to the library. Bucky, who Pyron says "had quite a following," passed away about a year ago.

"Everyone knew when Bucky was coming," Pyron said. "There were families who would specifically come to read to Bucky, and I'm sure Lucy will develop a following, too."

She already has a few fans.

"Dad, her nails are painted!" said Morningside Elementary School third-grader Sadie Bowen after spotting Lucy's purple manicure.

"She went to a birthday party yesterday," said Thueson, as Sadie sat down next to Lucy and began reading from Ivy and Bean: What's the Big Idea?

"The thing I love about watching the kids read to the dogs is the kids are so serious about it," Pyron said. "They really want to do a good job reading to that dog, and it's just so cool to watch. It's not, 'Oh I'm reading to a dog, and it doesn't matter.' They really focus and concentrate. Sometimes a parent will say, 'Gosh, I've never seen them read that well,' and they're reading to a dog."

Sadie acknowledged reading to a dog is "funny" but says she might read to her two canine pals at home.

Her dad, Brian Bowen, liked the idea, saying he might encourage his younger children to practice their reading skills with the dogs.

TAU brings dogs like Lucy "anywhere a pet could benefit people," Thueson said, whether it's a care center, prison, school, hospital or library. She said Lucy loves people, especially children.

Lucy's favorite book genre?

"Anything about dogs," Thueson said. "She loves bird stories, too, because she knows the word 'birdy.' "

Mostly though, just keep scratching her belly, and she wouldn't care if you read her the phone book.

Lucy will be at Holladay Library, 2150 Murray-Holladay Road, for about two hours every other Saturday.

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Read to Lucy

Children may read to a therapy dog Saturday, Aug. 20, at 11 a.m. at Holladay Library, 2150 Murray Holladay Road.