Therapy dog to visit library
■ Reading to an animal can help children increase their skills and confidence.
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.”
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.