Ruff readers get furry therapy
Niles Thursday, 2/28/13 Six-year-old, Blake Janken (In Background), of Niles reads to "Rowdy" during Thursday's "Reading with Rover" program at the Niles Public Library. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 6, 2013 2:10AM
As Claire Chilla read out loud to Charlie at the Niles Public Library, he couldn’t look more relaxed and happy.
Charlie, a GreatDane/pointer mix, loved getting his belly rubbed as Chilla read a book to him during the library’s Reading with Rover program on Feb. 28.
“I think the program is valuable for helping with reading and expression and letting a child who may not have a pet at home be with an animal in a safe situation,” said Debbie Graham, a librarian at the Niles Public Library who coordinates the program.
The program is held through Rainbow Assisted Therapy, which holds various programs like Reading with Rover that are intended to provide children with an attentive and non-judgmental audience.
“She loves coming to this program,” said Teresa Chilla, who said they don’t have a dog at home, so it’s a great way for her daughter to practice reading while also getting canine companionship.
“I enjoy it,” said Daniella LoPiccolo, 7, of Niles.
“It’s the only way she loves to read,” shared Kimberly LoPiccolo, Daniella’s mom. With a smile, she said that the dogs are more fun to read to than her mom.
Graham said that a major goal of the program is to help kids who may need some assistance with reading out loud.
“They don’t have to be a struggling reader to participate,” said Graham. She said the program also helps the kids build self-confidence while they’re reading out loud.
Graham said that the program also helps kids who are shy, because they get the opportunity to read books out loud to people they don’t know in a safe environment.
Five dogs and their owners were spread out throughout the meeting room in the children’s department. The kids were reading books to the dogs that were all calmly listening to the children.
Barb Balla, Charlie the dog’s owner, said she’s been participating in programs with Rainbow Assisted Therapy for more than five years. She’s a library coordinator for Rainbow.
Balla said the dogs go through a training program and are re-evaluated each year. Balla said that Charlie also participates in the therapy program at a local hospital.
“The dogs are not judgmental,” said Balla.
Rosemary Jelinek, of Chicago, participates in the program with her 3-year-old dog, Scout, who was wagging his tail as he listened to the kids read.
Jelinek said that she also brings Scout to schools so that severely handicapped children have the opportunity to read to him.
Jelinek said the teachers told her that some of the kids don’t speak too much, but they are able to read to the dogs.
Each session of Reading with Rover at the Niles Public Library lasts for several weeks, and the kids come to read to the dogs every other week.
After the kids finish reading to the dogs during their 20-minute session, they hand out treats to their four-legged friends who are wagging their tails, waiting anxiously for their treat.
“We don’t have a dog at home,” said Miriam Espinosa, of Niles.
Espinosa said her son, Noel, 7, really enjoys reading to the dogs at the library.
“It’s good for him to read out loud,” Espinosa said, who feels the program is an excellent way for her son to practice his reading skills.
“There’s not much pressure,” said Graham, about the program they’ve been doing at the library for about five years. She said that no one corrects the children when they’re reading like at school or at home.
Graham said the kids, volunteers and the dogs enjoy the experience.
“It’s a de-stressor all around,” said Graham.