But these weren’t the type of ears usually seen in a library.
They belonged to two white American Eskimo dogs, Rosie and Sierra, who patiently listened to young Abigail read her book.
Rosie, Sierra and their owner, Judy Somers, a retired medical technologist from Reno, were at library on April 9 as part of the Paws 2 Read program.
“It’s great, Abigail loves being with the dog and reading with the dog,” said Tina, Abigail’s mother and co-owner of Yogurt Beach yogurt shop. “It’s a good program and we like to support the library, we’ll come back in the future.”
Paws 2 Read is run by Paws 4 Love, a Reno-based therapy dog group.
Paws 4 Love is a volunteer organization started in the late 1990s that visits hospitals, senior living facilities, psychiatric facilities, schools and other places where needed, said Paws 4 Love volunteer Mary Ann McAuliffe, a director for development at the American Lung Association.
In recent years there has been increasing evidence that interaction with dogs can have a therapeutic effect for physical or mental illnesses.
According to a 1998 Virginia Commonwealth University study, mentally ill patients had significantly lower anxiety after once-a-week therapy sessions with a dog. Therapy dogs also have beneficial effects for elderly patients in long-term care, a 2001 study in The Journals of Gerontology reported.
Paws 2 Read began about a decade ago in cooperation with the Washoe County Library System. Paws 2 Read brings books and therapy dogs who will listen to children read in libraries and schools, Somers said.
In Paws 2 Read sessions, children pick out a book from the library’s stacks and then read the book to a dog under the supervision of a volunteer or a parent.
“They say that the kid’s reading ability will increase from 40 to 50 percent,” McAuliffe said. “Since pets don’t judge the child’s reading ability, it provides an atmosphere that’s safe and they don’t feel like people are judging their performance.”
After the child is done reading, he or she can pick out a book to keep from a selection provided by Paws 2 Read, McAuliffe said.
Paws 2 Read volunteers go to libraries with three or four teams — each team is made up of a volunteer and their dog, McAuliffe said. Volunteers also go to schools upon request.
Somers estimated that usually 20 children attend each Paws 2 Read session, which means the program serves as many as 120 children a week in six Washoe County libraries.
“We’ve had parents tell us that there are children whose reading skills have improved since they’ve been going to Paws 2 Read,” said Tamera Cirrincione, South Valleys managing librarian. “Overall, the numbers here have been up for our library. We’ve seen an increase in the use of facilities in general and Paws 2 Read has aided in that.”
Unlike support and guide dogs for the blind and disabled, Somers said therapy dogs usually don’t need much training.
“We’re looking for non-aggressive dogs that are not hyper and are approachable to strangers,” Somers said. “They shouldn’t bark too much or be frightened by loud noises. Basically they have to be a nice, calm dog.”
To qualify for Paws 2 Read, dogs have to be at least 1 year old and tested for aggressiveness. Obedience training is encouraged but not necessary, Somers said.
Paws 4 Love has 100 volunteers with dogs of different breeds. McAuliffe couldn’t give a firm number, but she said Paws 4 Love teams serve more than 100 people a month in hospitals, nursing homes and psychiatric centers.
For times and dates of Paws 2 Read sessions at Sparks, South Valleys, Northwest Reno, North Valleys, Spanish Springs and Sierra View libraries, go to the Washoe County Library System website at www.washoecounty.us/library.