Man's best friend enjoys stories too

Beth Rumsey
Staff Writer

Reading is going to the dogs during story time at the Osgood Public Library and the Milan Branch Library thanks to an innovative program called Tales to Tails.

The program encourages children who are struggling with reading to read aloud to specially trained therapy dogs to build confidence and improve their reading skills.

According to Jill Merida, coordinator for the Tales to Tails program, the program was started after being approached by several parents who wanted their disabled child to be around dogs, but did not want to have a service dog.

Merida, who is a certified service dog trainer, and her team first started in the North Central Library in Ohio, where the program became a success. Through her desire to present the program locally, Merida contacted the local libraries. “I called all four, and all four wanted us,” she said.

The team is made up of the dogs, Tuck, Tally and Dakota and their trainers Jackie Skinner, Rebecca Merida, as well as Jill. The dogs attend the story time in costume and are ready to hear a story. According to Merida, each child who reads to the dogs is eligible for a drawing to win a special prize.

The dogs are non-judgmental and therefore increase a child’s confidence when reading aloud. According to Merida, children who start the program reading in a whisper will be reading more loudly and with expression in a short time.

According to Rosie Pelligrini, children services director at the Osgood and Milan libraries, attendance to story time has increased since the program began in March. “I was thrilled with the program,” she said. “A lot of kids don’t warm up to adults, but really connect with a dog.”

Between March and May attendance to the reading program saw an increase of 23 children, according to Pelligrini. Often a day care class will attend when the dogs are visiting. “The dogs help to bring them in the first time,” she said.

The most rewarding part of the program is when the parents see the progress their child is making in just a short time, according to Merida. “At the end, we feel like we have made a difference to the kids,” she told The Versailles Republican.

“It’s rewarding to us all the way around,” she continued. “Sometimes the smallest things that you think won’t make a difference really do.”

Story times are held twice a month at Osgood and Milan libraries. For more information contact Osgood Public Library at 812-689-4011 or the Milan branch at 812-654-1963.

Pictured in front is Willow Blunt who is reading to Tally. Behind her other children are reading to Tuck. The children's reading skills are given a boost and the service dogs enjoy the company. The Tales to Tails program is making a difference.