- Associated Press - Sunday, January 5, 2020

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - Kids are able to read to, pet and interact with dogs as part of a monthly event at the Hastings Public Library.

On Saturday morning, the library hosted its Tales for Tails event where members of the local K-9 and Friends group brought in a therapy dog to interact with young readers who visited the library. The volunteer group includes a number of owners who bring their therapy dogs to programs at places such as local libraries, schools, assisted living facilities and hospitals.

Library Assistant Taylor Crawford said the Tales for Tails event is held every fourth Saturday at the library. The K-9 and Friends group will bring their therapy dogs, and kids will then sit on the floor and interact with the animals in the children and teens area of the library.

“Typically, how this works is the dogs will just sit in their areas and the kids will pet them and read,” Crawford told The Grand Island Independent. “But if we have a group of kids and they are a little bit shy, one of us will read a story or just sit there and read the whole time if kids do not jump in. But, typically, once we start reading, the kids want to take over.”

Librarian Tim Lentz said the Tales for Tails program is not a new program and has been held monthly for a few years. He said the program’s attendance has been steady and usually attracts a handful of kids.

“This program has been going on for a long time and it has been a real success,” Lentz said. “There are studies that show that for reluctant readers, reading to a dog is a low-key way of actually reading out loud. It gives them a chance to not be embarrassed or to have to read to their teacher, parents or classmates; they are reading to an animal.”

Jody Stutzman of Hastings said she brings her dog, Willis, to the Tales for Tails program every month. She said in her job working with migrant farm workers, she sees people who come to the United States with a third-grade education and have a hard time reading. This, Stutzman said, has opened her eyes to the importance of literacy.

“I notice with the kids that when Willis and I come here, I do not say anything; I just let them sit and read to Willis,” she said. “It seems like the kids forget some of their nerves when it comes to pronouncing everything right.”

Stutzman said that she prior to being involved with the Tales for Tails program, she never thought she could do anything with Willis other than “go for a walk or stuff at home.” She said it is “truly special” to be able to do something beyond that.

“It is truly special, especially with Willis’ background, to bring him here and see how happy everyone gets. Sometimes, there are kids who are too shy to read will just pet him,” Stutzman said. “As the months go on, they continue to come back, get more comfortable with Willis and start reading to him. When we come to this, he is happy for the rest of the day when I bring him home. He always gets so happy when I tell him we are coming here.”

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