Highland Park students read with dogs’ help
K9 Reading Buddies' Carole Yuster and 5-year-old Roy Barranco visit with Sam, who takes his work as a good listener quite seriousy, according to his owner Diana Renczarski of Deerfield. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2013 6:12AM
HIGHLAND PARK — Children who are learning to read can feel self-conscious when asked to read out loud, especially if their sense of confidence has been eroded.
But bring in a good, four-legged listener like Minnie or Ohso or Sam, and pleasing the dog is all that matters. The dogs are among 31 registered therapy dogs that provide a non-judgmental and affirming audience for young readers.
Carole Yuster, who founded K9 Reading Buddies of the North Shore in 2007, said the relationships work because they take the focus off the child. “The dog is a motivator and the pressure is off,” said Yuster, whose not-for-profit company links registered therapy dogs and trained owners with youngsters of all reading levels.
The dog owner might gently nudge the child into explaining a word’s meaning by deflecting the query onto the dog. “Minnie doesn’t know what that word means,” said Yuster, illustrating how the dogs are used in the sessions. “They are always teaching the dog.”
The presence of a new dog at a session provides a reason to reread the same book. “Mickey doesn’t know this book. He wasn’t here last week,” the owner might say.
The dogs’ suitability for this particular job was evident last week during a celebration of the success of five Oak Terrace School youngsters in the program. As a reward, each child was given a copy of “Wilson Learns Manners,” autographed by author Susan Castriota and “pawtographed” by their canine friend.
“You see the smiles on the children’s faces, and I think it brings enjoyment to the dog as well. They are getting extra attention and hearing that young voice,” said Jill Hoffman, who participates in K9 Reading Buddies with her black Labrador retriever, Ohso.
Diana Renczarski said her yellow Labrador retriever, Sam, takes his assignment seriously. “I go home and put his (Reading Buddies) bandana on him and he knows it’s time to go to work. He so totally knows,” she said.
Library Board President Lucy Hospardsky saw the rippling benefits of bringing children into the library. “They get interested in the library and they see the value of the books,” she said. “The children’s room has some Legos and some puzzles and they might come back when the dogs aren’t here.”