HARKER HEIGHTS — After drawing a photo of Santa shimmying his way down the chimney of his house, Dylan White, 6, told Lab mix Baxter all about his favorite month.

“I like December because it’s Christmas,” said White, as he read the story he just finished writing.

About a dozen children crowded around Baxter as they took turns petting and telling him their stories Thursday during Reading Rovers Book Club at the Harker Heights Public Library.

The program has evolved in the three years its been at the library, said Jeanine Madden, children’s librarian. Since the therapy dogs aren’t judgemental or intimidating, children who are self-conscious about reading aloud feel comfortable reading to them and can improve their literacy skills.

“It started with the intent to help children with their reading,” Madden said. “Because a lot of times we have big crowds, (now) it’s more of a (way to) get familiar with dogs and have a good time reading.”

Some parents who have attended the event have told Madden, “My child usually doesn’t read like this,” or “I’ve never seen them read like this before.”

Children too young to read also work on their creativity by writing and drawing a story to read to one of the four dogs that usually attend.

Volunteer Tracy Small, of Harker Heights, started bringing her dog, Baxter, 7, in August as a way to not only give back to the community but to spoil her dog with the attention he receives.

After registering Baxter with Therapy Dogs Inc., Small took Baxter to volunteer with older people. She started volunteering with a younger crowd after finding out about the club when she moved to Harker Heights.

“It’s a different kind of energy. The kids get all excited,” she said. “And Baxter loves it.”

Interaction between therapy dogs and children has many benefits, including calming children with special needs and providing positive memories.

“For the kids, a lot of them sometimes are afraid of dogs, especially bigger dogs,” Small said. “It’s nice that they can get exposed to a gentle good-mannered dog that isn’t going to cause harmful memories.”

Melodye Dzamba, of Harker Heights, brought her 2-year-old daughter, Isabella, to the interactive program after finding out about it from a friend. Although Isabella is too young to read, she loves animals and books.

“She loves any book as long as there’s pictures,” Dzamba said as Isabella stuck her hand out for Baxter to sniff. “We read two or three books each night before we go to bed.”

With a song and dance starting off each session, Dzamba plans to keep bringing Isabella to the library’s storytime as a way to keep her active while learning.

Dylan’s favorite part was interacting with the dog.

His mother, Mindy White, brought Dylan and his sister, Shelby, for the first time and said it was a fun way for them to practice reading.

“It’s a different experience. They really enjoyed it,” White said. “It’s definitely something they’ve never done before.”

When Dylan asked his mother if they could come to future events, she said, “it’s something to look forward to next month.”

Contact Sarah Rafique at srafique@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7549. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SarahRafique

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