TRAVERSE CITY — CeCe, Stella and Chaz enjoy a good book as much as anyone, and they don’t mind a bit if the reader takes a while to sound out the words.
The three are certified therapy dogs whose jobs are to be good listening companions while young readers work on their read-aloud skills during the Traverse Area District Library’s new Tell-A-Tail program.
“The program provides a positive, nonjudgmental and fun way for children to build their fluency and their confidence,” said the library’s Youth Services Coordinator Cathy Lancaster, who brought the Tell-A-Tail program with her from the Flint Public Library where she worked prior to moving to Traverse City. “Here, they don’t have the whole class looking at them while they practice reading. It’s just them and a dog.”
Lancaster said her black English Labrador retriever, Stella, was a popular part of the Flint library’s reading program, and just as much as much a magnet for children like Lindsey Greenfelder, 8, during TADL’s first read-aloud session on Jan. 17. Lindsey chose one in the series of “Bad Kitty” books by Nick Bruel to read to Stella as her mother Tracy Greenfelder looked on.
“She loves to read,” Greenfelder said. “When she gets any free time at school, she always chooses reading.”
Both Stella and Bette Wattles Williams’ 8-year-old yellow lab-golden retriever mix, CeCe, were adopted from the Leader Dog School for the Blind in Rochester Hills.
“The dog’s job is to be calm,” Wattles Williams said while watching children gravitate to CeCe for their chance to read. “CeCe was trained as a guide dog and went through retraining to be certified by Therapy Dogs International. She visits nursing homes and hospitals along with being part of the Tell-A-Tail program,” she said.
Kristen Torrez-Hill of Traverse City listened as her daughter Willow read “It’s A Dog’s Life” to Chaz, a young St. Bernard. “I heard about the program, and I thought it would be good for her,” she said. “At 7-1/2 years old, Willow is a little shy; and, normally, she’s self-conscious when she reads, but she was just reading to the dog and not thinking so hard about the words. It was very fluid.”
Chaz’s owner, Don Williams of Beulah, said the dog takes his job seriously. “He’s only 13 months old and can still get a little rambunctious, but when I put his collar on, he’s ready to work,” Williams said.
Chaz already makes regular reading visits to the Interlochen Elementary School’s library and the Interlochen Public Library.
“He’s very empathetic to special needs and he’s been working with two students at Interlochen who are reluctant readers,” Williams said. “He’s also worked with speech therapists. He never judges how someone’s saying something.”
Additional Tell-A-Tail programs will be offered Feb. 21 and March 21 at 4 p.m. at the Traverse Area District Library, 610 Woodmere Ave. For details, call 231-932-8503.