Bear is a dog. But not just any dog.
He's a Therapy Dog at the Peninsula Community Library, helping children be better readers.
He and his "mom" and handler, Paula Kelley, have become an important part of the library. And they recently received international recognition for what they do.
"We see him as a staff member now," said Vicki Shurly, library director.
"He has his own library card, an 'office' in a special corner, his own book cart, and a special parking spot," adds Kelley.
The library is attached to Old Mission Elementary School. In addition to serving the community, it's the library for children at the school, who range from preschool up to sixth grade. Bear and Kelley work closely with teachers who regularly bring their classroom to the library for group programs and one-on-one time with Bear.
Bear is a registered therapy dog and is part of the national Reading Education Assistance Dogs program (R.E.A.D). The program uses registered therapy dogs that are highly trained and have been tested for health, safety, appropriate skills and temperament.
R.E.A.D. is built around the idea that children's reading and communication skills are improved through a powerful method: reading to a dog. As Kelley said, "Bear is an important tool for not only getting children excited about reading, but building self-confidence and leadership."
Bear's overall purpose is to make children comfortable coming into a library, handling a book and looking for information. While not every child will love reading, Bear helps put the excitement back into it.
"They may not even like reading, but they're excited to be with Bear and read," Kelly said.
The dog's presence in the library also teaches children about dog safety. Kids learn to always ask Kelley for permission before they touch Bear.
"It's powerful not to be afraid of dogs, and by learning how to safely approach Bear, they feel more confident around all dogs," Kelley said.
Bear and Kelley continue to hone their skills throughout the year. In the summer, they attend a five-day Dog Scout Camp through Dog Scouts of America, an international leader in dog education. The camp teaches both dog and handler interactive skills. Bear has earned several badges for his accomplishments as a Dog Scout.
But his latest accomplishment -- and Kelley's -- was being honored by Delta Society, the premier international dog therapy organization. The duo was one of five finalists for the Beyond Limits Pet Partner Team of the Year Award in the Rookie category (less than two years volunteering). Finalists are selected based on their impact in the community.
"Bear has had an amazing impact," said Shurly. "He slowly worked himself into our hearts and now he's a part of our life here."