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Children can practice reading with Ruby at the Berthoud library

February 01, 2019 | Local News

Courtesy photo – Karen Fischer, therapy dog handler, right, reads Jan. 25 to her grandson, Jackson Bradley, 10 ½ months old, while Courtesy photo – Ruby, a 12-year-old golden retriever, listens. Fischer brings Ruby to the Berthoud Community Library District every Wednesday for the Paws to Read program that gives children the opportunity to practice reading with a therapy dog.

By Shelley Widhalm

The Surveyor

For some young readers, the highlight of their Wednesdays is coming to the Berthoud library and reading to Ruby.

Ruby, a 12-year-old golden retriever trained as a therapy dog, and her handler Leslie Fischer of Berthoud have been visiting the Berthoud Community Library District, 236 Welch Ave., for four years, every Wednesday afternoon. They are part of the Paws to Read program offered 4-5 p.m. in the children’s section.

“She just lays there and listens to them,” Fischer said. “She is very calm. She lets the kids pet her and lay on her.”

The program is a drop-in service and usually has nine to 10 children taking turns practicing their reading with “a very attentive audience,” said Christy Headrick, youth instructor and librarian at the Berthoud library.

“It gives them a safe place to read aloud and practice reading,” Headrick said. “It also creates a fun element I like to have in the children’s area, just the surprise of having the animal there and the delight children find in her.”

When children are first learning to read, they learn how to put the sounds of words together, along with the sense of the words. Sounding out the words aloud helps with comprehension.

“If they have a fairly nonjudgmental listener like Ruby they are more open to reading out loud,” Headrick said.

The children select their own books, or if they want a recommendation, Headrick will make a suggestion based on their reading level.

“We usually let the children decide what they want to read,” Headrick said. “Usually it’s best to let them choose something to read. If they are excited about it, then they’re going to excel.”

Ruby and Fischer bring in a large number of regulars.

“People are very dedicated,” Headrick said. “We get a lot of the same folks on a regular basis coming in and who know Ruby very well.” It helps that Ruby is a relaxed and happy animal.

“She’s got relaxed, happy energy, not the bouncy, happy energy,” Headrick said. “She’s like an angel. She comes in and will sit there. Children will pull her tail and flop on her. She’s really easygoing and doesn’t let anything bother her.”

Fischer visits children and adults in the library if there are not a lot of readers or after the end of the program to introduce Ruby to the community.

“It’s just nice to meet and greet people in the local area,” Fischer said.

Fischer currently is the only handler in the program, though other handlers have helped out for a short time. She and Ruby are certified through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a nationwide therapy dog association based in Cheyenne, Wyo. They have held the certification for five years after passing an obedience test and other program requirements, including leash training, and Fisher has to recertify every year to continue working as a handler.

“The kids enjoy it, and the parents like it,” Fischer said. “The parents like it because they’re reading out loud and improving their reading skills.”

Fischer is training a second golden retriever to be a therapy dog, Shelby, age 1, who will be ready to work in up to two years.

“Once she’s certified, I can switch off who I want to take to where, but I cannot take two dogs at once. They do not allow that,” Fischer said.

Fischer brings Ruby to Toddler Time, a library story time 10:30-11 a.m. every Wednesday for children ages 2 to preschool, and to two assisted-living and memory-care facilities in Longmont. Last year she brought Ruby to Berthoud Elementary School to help first graders practice reading.

“I think it’s awesome for kids – any that are struggling with reading and any that enjoy reading to an animal,” Fischer said.

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