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Therapy dog acts as audience for young readers

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MASSENA - Xena hears a lot of stories these days.

The nearly 10-year-old golden retriever is a certified therapy dog who acts as the audience for young readers for two hours every Wednesday at the Massena Public Library.

The child brings in a book, sits in a beanbag chair with Xena by his or her side, and reads aloud as the dog intently savors every word.

It’s a therapeutic match for both the dog and the reader, according to Xena’s owner, Joan K. Kogut, Potsdam.

“Young children are often shy or have anxiety about reading in public or in a classroom setting. They don’t feel the same with a dog. They don’t feel the same level of stress and anxiety,” she said.

Therapy Dogs International, which certifies dogs like Xena, said their “Tail Waggin’ Tutors” program encourages children to read “by providing a non-judgmental listener and furry friend to read to that won’t laugh at them if they make a mistake or stumble over a word, but rather lie next to them and enjoy the story being read to them.”

That, they said, helps the children “begin to view reading in a positive way. Over time, the child’s reading ability and confidence can improve because they are practicing their skills, which will make them enjoy reading even more.”

Youth Services Library Assistant Kimberly Holmes said children sign up for 15-minute blocks of reading time between 3 and 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. They choose their own book, cuddle up on the beanbag chair with Xena by their side and start reading aloud.

“The kids call and make appointments. Most of the time they do it when they’re here. They come in with whatever book they want,” she said, noting they have several repeat readers who take part in the program every week.

“Unless the weather is really bad out or there’s no school, they keep coming and coming,” Ms. Holmes said.

On Wednesday, Xena cuddled up next to her first reader, Kristen Oliver, who read from “The Wimpy Kids Movie Diary.”

Kristen said she enjoyed her visit with Xena and came “usually every week” to read to her.

“I like reading to the dog,” she said.

For Xena, it was just another day as a therapy dog.

“They have to pass a very specific test with Therapy Dogs International. She’s been doing therapy dog work almost all of her life. She earned her certification when she was 2,” Ms. Kogut said.

Xena and other therapy dogs owned by Ms. Kogut have also helped at other locations such as other libraries, colleges and nursing homes.

“It’s such a worthwhile thing. Everybody benefits. The dogs love the attention. It brightens everybody’s day and makes them smile,” she said.

Anyone who’s interested in participating in the weekly program in Massena can contact the library’s front desk at 769-9914 to sign up.

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