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Everyone loves a good book
Therapy dogs helping kids read at libraries

By Christine Davis

Staff Intern

DACULA - Most people wouldn't hire a tutor that walked on four legs and was covered in fur, but two branches of the Gwinnett County Public Library System are employing tutors of this sort on a bimonthly basis.

The Dacula and Grayson libraries are both working with the volunteer group Therapaws to help improve kids' reading skills.

Therapaws is the Atlanta chapter of Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer organization dedicated to training dogs to be therapeutic for people in places such as nursing homes and hospitals.

As part of their training, dogs are brought into libraries and schools, and kids practice their reading to the dogs. The Therapaws program is targeted at children who may be too embarrassed or shy to read out loud to a teacher or peer group.

"The dog is a nonjudgmental listener," said Meg Wilson, manager of the Dacula library.

Therapaws works with several area schools and libraries, and the organization contacted the Dacula public library when it opened in 2006.

Soon after, "Doggie Tales" was created.

In the summer of 2006, the Dacula library hosted "Doggie Tales" every Saturday. This year, Therapaws wanted to expand its service, and the group of dogs and volunteers now rotate between the Dacula and Grayson libraries, visiting both twice a month.

"It's a consistently popular (program)," Wilson said. "Both parents and kids love the dogs."

And there is a wide variety of kids who come to test their reading skills on the Therapaws dogs.

"Babies come and just want to look at picture books with the dogs," Wilson said, "And then you have kids as old as 11 and 12 practicing reading."

The dogs brought to the library have had extensive training and are handled by the Therapaws volunteers.

The breeds of Therapaws dogs range from a King Charles spaniel to Catfish, a lovable giant Hound mix.

Doggie Tales meets at the Dacula Public Library every first and third Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and at the Grayson library every second and fourth Saturday.

For more information on Doggie Tales, visit the Gwinnett County Public Library Web site at www.gwinnettpl.org or the Therapy Dogs International Web site at www.tdi-dog.org.