Children practiced reading aloud Saturday at the library to a captivated audience of one — Toby.
Cierra Vargas, 9, sat next to Toby on a blue couch in the children’s room of the Casey Memorial Library and quietly read aloud from a library book.
Toby’s calm demeanor eased her anxiety, Cierra said.
“I’m nervous reading around people when they’re in here,” she said. “I’m still kind of shy.”
Toby, she said, was a great listener.
Known as Paws for Reading, this new monthly program at the Fort Hood library allows kids to boost their reading skills confidence by reading to Toby, a therapy dog owned by Fort Hood resident and Army spouse Susanna Beirick.
“The nice thing about a therapy dog is it’s not judgmental. You can read at whatever pace you want,” Beirick said. “It’s not about finishing the book. It’s about the time.”
As children read in 15-minute time slots, Toby, a 5-year-old dog rescued from the Killeen Animal Shelter, sat or laid down patiently at their side. It was the post-reading petting he seemed to want most, as he rolled onto his back and rested his head in children’s laps, gently nudging their hands with his nose.
Sgt. Randy Morales, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, brought his 2-year-old son Ethan to meet Toby.
While Ethan can’t read on his own yet, Morales held him in his lap and together they read a book to Toby.
“He loves to read,” the father said. “I like that they do stuff here. It lets us do (activities) together with him.”
The Paws for Reading idea was inspired by a similar program at libraries in Fort Knox, Ky., and Harker Heights, said Jennifer Hauschildt, public services librarian. Right now the program is limited to four kids, one Saturday a month, but she is working to expand it.
“Reading to a dog makes reading more fun for kids,” she said.
The program runs from 10 to 11 a.m., and will be held again Jan. 11 and Feb. 1. Children must be preregistered to participate. To register or for more information, call the circulation desk at 254-287-4921.