LARSON: Dog days both free and fun

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

The big Pet EXPO coming up Nov. 16 at the Gwinnett Convention Center really sounds exciting. It’s free, there are more than 120 exhibits and visitors are encouraged to bring their own pets, including hamsters, birds and lizards. (Proof of immunization is needed for dogs and cats.)

If you don’t have a pet, come anyway! You might just find one to take home with you from the Mega Adoption area. But then again, some people can’t have a pet due to allergies or apartment policies. For some, it’s a matter of money, even with a wonderful group like Daffy’s Pet Soup Kitchen that provides free food and reduced veterinary services.

And then there was me, back in the early 80’s with four kids — one in cheerleading, one in T-ball and two in diapers. The last thing I needed was a pet. (Well, I did agree to take in a sand crab from my oldest son’s class after they finished their science unit on crustaceans.)

We eventually adopted a couple of cats, but it would have been nice if my kids had had some regular exposure to traditional pets when they were younger. If only the Gwinnett Library had had their Doggie Tales program way back then.

I observed a Doggie Tales session a few years ago at Mountain Park Library where a Boston bull named Gooch was all ears as children cuddled up and read to him.

As cute as it was, I learned that there is more to it than just having fun.

Cindy Flanary, Director of Therapy Dogs International No. 193, filled me in on some of the educational and psychological benefits of the program.

“Personally, my husband and I visit the Dacula, Collins Hill, Hamilton Mill and Centerville branches,” Flanary said. “Many parents have told me that once their children read to one of our therapy dogs, they go home and start reading to their own pets. Others make a special trip to the library just to read to a dog. We do have regulars and they have learned the dogs names since usually we have the same dogs go to each branch. They are still collecting the bookmarks with pictures of each dog that the library provides.”

She went on to say, “Some children are bashful about reading aloud, even to a dog, so we encourage them to tell the dogs about the pictures in the book, making up their own story as they go. Hopefully, this will encourage them to read aloud the next time.”

Oh, sort of like Toastmasters for tots!

“Also, some children are afraid of dogs and we’ve found that our dogs can help them overcome that fear because they are well behaved and non-threatening.”

Sounds like paws-itive therapy to me!

If you want to experience the excitement of the EXPO, visit www.gwinnettcenter.com If you just want your child to have some calm time with a canine, visit www.gwinnettpl.org.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.