HomeMedford NewsPaws to Read program grows in popularity

Paws to Read program grows in popularity

The most popular dog with the kids in Medford Township may very well be Ocho.

A 3-year-old German Shepherd, Ocho is more than just an ordinary dog. He is a registered therapy dog who spends an hour on Thursdays at Pinelands Library.

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The Paws to Read program is an alternative approach to helping kids improve their reading skills. At Pinelands Library, children can register for 15-minute sessions with Ocho and read one of their favorite books.

“The kids love it,” Rick Yankosky, a librarian who works with Paws to Read, said. “They get to read to an un-judging audience. The dog is an attentive listener.”

The reason Paws to Read works so well is that the children, thanks to the calming presence of Ocho, are able to relax and read in a pressure-free setting.

Yankosky said Ocho was originally meant to be a seeing-eye dog. However, he had some problems with being skittish.

So one day, Ocho’s owner, Mary Hickey, went to the library and proposed the idea of starting Paws to Read.

Since the program was launched last year, it has become increasingly popular. Yankosky said that the kids love Ocho and feel extremely comfortable around him.

“Ocho is just a real friendly German Shepherd,” he said. “Even kids who are fearful of dogs will maybe just read to him the first time. The next time they come back, they’re hugging the dog and petting him.”

The purpose of Paws to Read isn’t to teach kids how to read. Instead, the program is meant to help children become better readers, regardless of their age level.

Overall, the program has been a success and not just at Pinelands Library. Many libraries around across the country have some form of a Paws to Read program. Pinelands, like many libraries across the country, cite its program as helping children improve their literacy level.

The success of these programs has caused their popularity to explode and for libraries to start their own programs.

Yankosky said that kids of any reading level can register for the program. The library has had kids ages 5 to 12 take part in the program.

The program and Ocho’s popularity has exploded so much that the library has a waiting list. The program’s sessions are 15 minutes long, with four sessions per day. Because the program only takes place a couple times a month, it had led to a high demand from kids in the township.

“You only have four shots per session,” Yankosky said. “A lot of times it’s repeat people. A lot of times we’ve had kids come to the library, see it and say ‘Wow, what is that?’ and then sign up for it.”

Yankosky also revealed that the library may soon add another dog to its Paws to Read lineup sometime in the near future.

Anyone who wishes to sign up their child for Paws to Read must register in advance. This can be done at the library in person or on the library’s website at www.bcls.lib.nj.us/pinelands.


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