august, johnstown, johnstownvillage, ThisWeek, ThisWeekNews

Kids respond to gentle, tailed tutor

Monday August 3, 2015 11:21 AM

At the Mary E. Babcock Library, a sandy-colored goldendoodle named Murphy lay on a lime-green fleece blanket, softly panting, his tail wagging.

Sitting beside him was 6-year-old Henry Dyer, who read Gus Grows a Plant by Frank Remkiewiez.

He gingerly sounded out each word, with the help of Murphy’s owner, Sheri Weiner.

Every Tuesday, children of any age can participate in the free Tail Waggin’ Tutors program at the library and read to a therapy dog for 15 minutes.

Henry’s father, Chris Dyer, said they come as often as they can.

“Reading to the dog is a great way to encourage him to read during the summer,” Dyer said. “We want him to continue to develop his reading skills.”

He believes the program has helped Henry a lot and finds that he really looks forward to Tuesday evenings now.

As Henry reads and closes the book, Weiner encourages him.

“Murphy was so proud of you for finishing that book. Look how he’s wagging his tail,” she said to Henry.

“I enjoy getting to watch kids learn how to read,” said Weiner, who is a licensed social worker and a grief counselor for children.

Weiner bought Murphy from a breeder in Dover, Ohio, in 2012 and hoped he could be a therapy dog with her work through hospice, but the necessary liability insurance was too costly.

Murphy instead became a licensed therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International in December 2014.

During his test, both Weiner and Murphy were judged on their reactions to situations such as when food was offered, when strangers petted Murphy, or when they encountered people in wheelchairs.

The pair has been volunteering at the library for about six months. They see about eight students regularly and aren’t afraid to challenge them.

“Murphy and I were talking and he told me he’s bored,” Weiner gently tells children when they try to read books far below their reading level. “We think that you need to practice reading at home some more and should try reading some tougher books.”

She said she has seen family members get tears in their eyes when they see their child reading aloud for the first time.

“We see kids with all different reading levels, some with ADHD, others with autism,” Weiner said. “Murphy is always so excited to see the kids.”

Branch assistant Becky Weber said children love the weekly Tail Waggin’ Tutors.

“It seems to help them read. It gives the parents ideas on how to help the kids with their reading at home, too,” she said. “I remember one evening, a child who was afraid of dogs saw Murphy. Sheri helped him realize that not all dogs are bad — and I don’t think he’s afraid of dogs anymore.”

Weiner plans to continue the program throughout the school year and wants to let teachers know about it so they could possibly offer students extra credit for attending the library sessions.

“This can open up a world of books for kids,” she said. “When they read to him, the kids feel a sense of accomplishment. Murphy isn’t judging them; he’s just a happy puppy.”

Reservations for a 15-minute spot at the next Tail Waggin’ Tutors program can be made by calling the Mary E. Babcock Library at 740-967-2982. 

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