Manhasset Library provides young readers with a patient audience: dogs

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Manhasset Library provides young readers with a patient audience: dogs
Roxy, a trained therapy dog, listens as Isabelle Demirdjan, 8, reads to her at the Manhasset Library. (Photo by Teri West)

Isabelle walked into the room clutching “Junie B. Jones is a Beauty Shop Guy,” and Roxy’s floppy ears and whitening nose were there to greet her.

“She fell in love with this dog last time she was here,” Isabelle’s mother, Neyeree Demirdjan, said.

Isabelle timidly greeted Roxy and her mother encouraged her to start reading. The second-grader burst into a flurry of words, consumed in another world while the dog sat patiently as her audience.

The 8-year-old’s second appearance at the Manhasset Library program meant she had twice landed a coveted 10-minute slot for the library’s new reading to dogs series. The program is intended to help children in kindergarten through fourth grade gain confidence in reading out loud and being around dogs, said librarian Mary Heuman. 

“It’s good to have a positive reading experience with a nonjudgmental listener,” she said. “A dog’s not going to make fun of them. A dog’s not going to correct them.”

Participants pre-register for Manhasset Library’s new reading to dogs program online. Slots for March and April sessions filled up within hours, said librarian Mary Heuman. (Photo by Teri West)

Roxy and her counterpart Chester are both trained therapy dogs whose owners bring them to the library on a volunteer basis.

Through a digital network, Roxy’s owner Michelle Roberts said she can easily search for opportunities to bring her companion anywhere from a nursing home to a library to a college campus.

“She was a people dog,” Roberts said. “Everybody loved her. My kids left the nest … and I thought I needed to do something positive so I wanted to do something with Roxy.”

Heuman wrote her master’s thesis on library therapy dog programs in 2007.

Through surveys, she found that most parents and guardians said the program increased their child’s confidence in reading and willingness to read aloud for an audience.

This is the second library she’s worked at where she’s introduced the program.

Isabelle said she picks up two or three books every time she visits the library. The only people she normally reads aloud to are her parents, she said.

Munsey Park Elementary School student Isabelle Demirdjan said she picks up two to three books every time she visits the library. (Photo by Teri West)

“Junie B. Jones is my favorite series,” she said. “They’re funny.”

“She’s generally pretty apprehensive about dogs,” her mother said.

She hinted that they might be considering getting one.

“We thought we’ll come here and meet a very calm, mellow dog,” Dmirdjan said.

The library will expand the therapy dog program to teenagers on June 19 to give them a furry friend to relax with in the midst of finals.

It will also continue offering the program for elementary schoolers once a month, Heuman said. Both times so far, all of the slots filled up within hours, and the March sessions filled up within 15 minutes, she said.

On her second go, Isabelle got extra lucky. The individual who signed up for the 10-minute slot after hers was a no-show.

Isabelle got 20 golden minutes with Roxy.

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