Ther­apy dog to visit li­brary

■ Read­ing to an an­i­mal can help chil­dren in­crease their skills and con­fi­dence.

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Janelle Jessen Staff Writer ■

Chil­dren who visit the Siloam Springs Public Li­brary will get a chance to read to a very kind and pa­tient au­di­ence — Dusty the ther­apy dog.

Dusty and his owner Me­merly McEl­heny of Siloam Springs will visit the li­brary at 4:30 p.m. on the sec­ond and fourth Tues­day of the month, start­ing on Sept. 11. Dusty has been com­ing to the li­brary once a month for sev­eral months, but af­ter tak­ing a break in the month of Au­gust he is back and will dou­ble his vis­its, ac­cord­ing to Delilah Wil­liamson, chil­dren’s li­brar­ian and pro­grams co­or­di­na­tor.

Dusty is a nine-year-old re­tired rac­ing grey­hound. McEl­heny adopted him through Grey­hound Pets in Spring­field, Mo., and pre­pared him for the rig­or­ous test­ing and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process re­quired to be­come a ther­apy dog. Over the past four years, Dusty and McEl­heny have vol­un­teered in nurs­ing homes, on­col­ogy clin­ics, hos­pi­tals and now at the li­brary.

Chil­dren are nat­u­rally drawn to Dusty as soon as they come in the li­brary, Wil­liamson said. Dur­ing read­ing ses­sions, chil­dren of all ages can pick out their fa­vorite book, then take turns spend­ing about 10 min­utes with Dusty in the story room, she said.

Read­ing to a ther­apy dog can help chil­dren re­lax and boost their con­fi­dence be­cause an­i­mals don’t judge their read­ing skills and in­stead of­fer un­con­di­tional love, Wil­liamson and McEl­heny said.

“A lot of kids strug­gle with read­ing, they do not want to read aloud, they kind of maybe get self­con­scious,” Wil­liamson said.

Not only is Dusty a warm and com­fort­able read­ing part­ner, chil­dren also know that he won’t make fun of them or snicker and gig­gle if they miss a word, McEl­heny said.

“The dogs don’t judge, they just love un­con­di­tion­ally,” she said. “I think it’s just a huge, huge com­fort for them — just them and Dusty and they get in their own lit­tle world — it’s kind of sweet.”

By re­mov­ing the bar­rier of self­con­scious­ness, ther­apy dogs can help par­ents and teach­ers more ac­cu­rately as­sess their child’s read­ing skills, Wil­liamson said.

In her for­mer job work­ing with spe­cial needs stu­dents in the public school sys­tem, Wil­liamson said she wit­nesses ther­apy dogs’ work with chil­dren with mirac­u­lous re­sults. She wanted to make the ex­pe­ri­ence avail­able to the chil­dren and fam­i­lies the li­brary serves, she said.

It takes a dog with a spe­cial tem­per­a­ment to be a ther­apy an­i­mal, McEl­heny said. Ther­apy dogs have to be calm and laid back, love peo­ple and can’t bark or star­tle at loud noises like clang­ing IV poles or be ner­vous around un­fa­mil­iar ob­jects such as wheel­chairs. Greyhounds, re­tired from the race­track, tend to make ex­cel­lent ther­apy dogs, she said.

“They are every­thing you would ex­pect an ex-racer not to be — calm, not prone to bark­ing, taller where they can eas­ily reach a wheel­chair or bed,” she said.

Greyhounds are nat­u­ral sprint­ers, so when they do run in a fenced in area they can hit 45 miles an hour in three strides, but they don’t run for long pe­ri­ods of time, she said. They pre­fer to spend most of their time nap­ping.

Dusty loves his job as a ther­apy dog, ac­cord­ing to McEl­heny. To pre­pare for ther­apy ses­sions, he has to have a bath, brush his teeth and get his nails done. As soon as McEl­heny men­tions its time to get ready, Dusty runs to the bath­room.

“He’s at­tracted to kids,” she said. “He just stands there very pa­tiently, he will wave bye to them when they get ready to leave, if they want to give him a treat, I let them give him a treat that I pro­vide.”

Photo submitted

Dusty, a cer­ti­fied ther­apy dog, lis­tened as a fam­ily read to him in the Siloam Springs Public Li­brary. Dusty and his owner Me­mer­ley McEl­heny visit the li­brary twice a month so that chil­dren of all ages can have a chance to read to him.

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