There is no substitute for the hands-on experience of reading with one hand in the fur of a friendly dog. However, with everyone trying to stay safe at home, even therapy dogs have to innovate and experiment with new models.
So, on Thursday mornings throughout July, Read to Rover teams offered Zoom reading sessions for kids, in cooperation with the Jefferson County Library and Port Townsend Library. This was a learning experience for the Read to Rover volunteers in trying to adapt therapy dog activities to a virtual environment. The challenges included figuring out how to effectively share a book and how to strengthen the interaction between kids and dogs when physically petting is impossible. One approach that we discovered helped to make a connection was to demonstrate tricks that the dog could show off via Zoom.
While attendance was lighter than we’d hoped, the kids who did participate seemed to have fun and enjoy our dogs. One of our readers, Micah, had this to say about her experiences: “What I liked about Read to Rover was that I got to see a bunch of different dogs and talk to the owners. They were all so cute and fun and I liked to see their tricks. I loved all the dogs, and I don’t want to pick a favorite, because I don’t want to offend anyone. I liked reading Dr. Seuss with the dogs. I also just liked some of the things they did when I read to them. I liked how some of the dogs could keep a treat on their paw and wait for the owner to give them a signal to go ahead and eat the treat. I just loved seeing all the dogs, meeting the owners, talking, reading, everything.”
Micah’s mom, Rebecca, had this to add: “Thank you so much for taking time to organize this, it’s been special to have these types of things available for Micah during Covid-19. As a family that has been staying home since late February, we have looked to using all ways of outside communication as a means of giving Micah the ability to communicate with as many people as possible outside of our home. Even though it’s on screen we feel the more she can interact with others, the better for her socially, if there has been one time I’m happy for screen time it’s now. She loves, loves, loves dogs, so this has been so great for her. Thank you again.”
We thank Scott Bahlmann, youth librarian at Jefferson County Library and Hilary Verheggen, youth librarian at Port Townsend Library, for advertising the program, hosting the sessions and scheduling readers. They had assistance from library staff, Chloe Vogel and Martha Ashenfelter. It has been a pleasure to work with all of them on this project.
Thank you to the participating Read to Rover teams: Carolyn Brummel with Leo, Carla Ellis with Lumie, Ginny Partridge with Brie, Christina Pivarnik with Sidney, Melody Sky with Gryfin, Pat Swain with Lily, and Laura Tucker with Yogi. We have the very best volunteers ever!