MATTHEWS — The Matthews Library has gone to the dogs.
Well, at least on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to noon. That is when the Matthews Library, and other branches in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library system, hosts Paws to Read.
The program allows children to read to therapy dogs. Many of the libraries in Mecklenburg County participate in the program on most Saturdays. Children are given a 15-minute slot to read to a therapy dog during the drop-in program. All the dogs are registered therapy dogs and are brought to the libraries by their owners. Times, however, for Paws to Read vary among the different branches.
Recent studies performed by research teams at the University of California-Davis and Tufts University revealed that children who read aloud to therapy dogs on a regular basis demonstrate drastic improvement in their reading skills. Some of the benefits, according to the studies, include sustained concentration and focus, a higher level of awareness, improved attitudes toward school, increased reading comprehension and fluency, expanded use of vocabulary and language, boosted confidence and pride in their reading skills and a better enjoyment of reading.
“It is a good way for children to boost their confidence in reading,” said Laura Fitzsimmons with the Matthews Library. “The dog doesn’t judge them and children sometimes feel more comfortable reading to the dog rather than their parents or friends. We have heard from some parents that they have seen an improvement in reading.”
Cooper, a 7-year-old Sheltie Mix, was the center of attention March 3. It was also fitting that Cooper jumped out of a Mini Copper car along with his owner, Peter Panico. Cooper is usually joined by another therapy dog named Remington but Cooper had the whole show to himself on this particular day.
Cooper was eagerly met by a host of young children. Some read to Cooper while he stretched out on the floor and others just wanted to have some quality petting time with the dog.
Panico, who teaches fifth-graders at Rama Road Elementary School in south Charlotte, has been bringing Cooper to the library for over two years.
He said Cooper also benefits from the program.
“It helps keep him healthy,” Panico said. “The busier they are, the happier they are and it makes them live longer because they are work dogs. This is what he loves to do, lay around and be rubbed. It’s an ideal job for him.”
Cooper completed an extensive training program at PetSmart to become a certified therapy dog. Cooper had to pass several classes and a battery of tests before being certified.
“Therapy dogs are used to be talked to, and rubbed and sat next to,” Panico said. “It’s nice to spend time with him and have some nice, relaxing quality time.”