Books and Beaks

Pinelands Branch Library hosts its first ‘Chicken Paws to Read’ event

Rosebud The Chicken poses on a clever selection of books provided by the library for the “Chicken Paws to Read” event

By Krista Cerminaro

Although talking loudly in a library is typically frowned upon, clucking certainly isn’t at Pinelands Branch Library, where it welcomed a not-so-typical guest last Tuesday.

Paws to Read, a program that allows children to read to therapy dogs, was implemented at the library a few years ago, according to Pinelands librarian Rick Yankosky.

This time, however, it was Rosebud — a certified therapy chicken — who served as their audience.

Librarian Rick Yankosky helps Julius and Elijah Harvey read to Rosebud.

The library’s first “Chicken Paws to Read” sparked a lot of interest, according to Yankosky.

“I saw that it was an opportunity, and I said yeah — I think our patrons would like that,” Yankosky said. “And, who gets to read to a chicken?”

While chickens and children altogether seem like a chaotic combo, Rosebud couldn’t have been calmer.

“Nothing bothers her at all,” said Rosebud’s owner, Gwenne Baile — also known as “The Chicken Lady of South Jersey.”

Baile said she participated in 102 events with Rosebud in 2017 — including visits to the elderly, school science fairs, fall festivals, children with disabilities and more. But this was the first event where children were able to read to Rosebud.

“I just get a kick out of the kids,” said Baile, who sat Rosebud on her lap throughout the duration of each reading session.

Librarian Danielle Haubrich reaches out to touch Rosebud with her children, Ben and Grace Haubrich

Despite the children showing some initial shyness to approach Rosebud, or even sit too close, they were ultimately pleased to pet her, and intrigued by her “Swedish fish-like” comb, as Baile best described it. Yankosky explained the program is aimed to get kids more comfortable with being around animals, as well as give them a non-judgmental audience to read to.

“If they’re not real confident with their reading, no one’s saying ‘no, [it’s] this, or that,’” Yankosky said. “It’s just them and the dog. Or — them and the chicken.”

Sisters Larissa and Abigail Sheridan of Medford, NJ, take turns reading a book to Rosebud.

“Also, they get more comfortable with animals,” Yankosky continued. “Some people we have are afraid of dogs, or have never seen a chicken before. So this gives them the opportunity to engage with an animal.”

Baile said the idea of a therapy chicken isn’t much different than a therapy dog.

“They’re very non-threatening because they’re small,” Baile said. “It just relaxes people, decreases blood pressure — what all the other therapy animals do.”

One advantage of a chicken, Baile noted, is their uncommonness.

“I think — especially with working with some autistic kids, developmentally challenged kids and young adults — is they might’ve been growled at by another dog. Not a therapy dog, but a dog. So, they’re petrified of dogs. It doesn’t matter what kind of therapy dog it is. They won’t go anywhere near it,” Baile explained. “They don’t normally have a frame of reference when it comes to chickens. Their grandmothers didn’t have chickens that they got chased around the farm, and now they’re afraid.”

However, according to Baile, not all chickens have what it takes to become therapy animals.

Rosebud sits on the lap of her owner, Gwenne Baile. Baile told the children that the red comb at the top Rosebud’s head feels like a Swedish Fish candy.

“It’s not like you can take a standard, ordinary chicken that would run all over creation and say, ‘OK, I’m going to make you a therapy chicken.’ It really is their personality,” said Baile, who noticed Rosebud’s patient nature and decided to get her certification through Chickens and You, an online training program. “I knew I had the right chicken, and because I’m a retired nurse — it just went so hand-in-hand. It was something that I knew I could really put my retirement into doing.”

As if Rosebud the therapy chicken didn’t leave behind enough of an impression at the library, she also left behind “The Little Red Hen,” a book she donated to the Pinelands Branch library — and autographed — with a footprint.