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Dog team help kids build reading skills
Tail waggin' tutors take two
Therapy dog Mako and his owner, Lori Gaylor, at a recent competition in Savannah. - photo by Photo provided.

There are some friendly, furry faces joining Nero the therapy dog for the “Reading to Dogs” program at the Richmond Hill Public Library.

Mako, a 2-year-old Vizsla, and Scout, a 1-year-old Shiloh Shepherd, are the newest additions to the program, which helps children gain confidence and reading skills.

They join Nero, the big, docile Doberman, who has been working as a therapy dog at the library for almost 2 years.

The dogs, all certified by Therapy Dogs International, provide a sympathetic ear for children struggling with reading skills.

“The children can come to a non-judgmental place and interact with someone who cares for them … and feel good about what they’re doing, so if they stumble over a word, nobody’s going to correct them,” said Justine Oakwood, Nero’s owner and trainer.

Children visiting the library for the program have been responsive to Mako and Scout.

“They love her,” said Blake Arnold of his dog, Scout. “She’s pretty big, as are Nero and Mako, so there are some kids that maybe aren’t used to dogs and are taken aback at first, but they warm up to her. There are usually three or four kids in there, petting her and reading to her.”

“It’s very rewarding,” Arnold added. “She loves children and the kids enjoy being with her too, so it’s good for all of us.”

Scout’s name even has a literary heritage – she is named for the young female protagonist in Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Lori Gaylor, Mako’s owner, said the children love her dog and his velvety Vizsla coat.

“They’re always so excited to read to him,” she said.
Gaylor was moved by an interaction between Mako and a particularly shy girl.

“She sat down and started reading to him, and he eventually put his head on her lap. Without really realizing it, she just started petting him. It was amazing.”

“These kids deal with all kinds of things – trouble with reading or socialization – and it’s so cool because the dogs don’t care; they love them for who they are,” Gaylor continued. “The kids pick up on that and they really react.”

The dogs’ latest endeavor will involve helping the children of a foreign family, visiting with a local church group, to practice their English. Their owners are excited to use the reading program in this new way.

All three dogs are enjoying their work, and Arnold and Gaylor are currently looking for other ways their recently-certified therapy dogs can help rehabilitate people of all ages in our community.

Read to Nero, Scout and Mako at the Richmond Hill Public Library every Thursday from 4-5 p.m.

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