By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
STEVENSVILLE — Sophia Goodush celebrated her seventh birthday Wednesday by reading a book about a pesky worm that wouldn’t leave its apple to her new friend named Paris, an English springer spaniel.
Sophia was there with her sister and mother as part of the monthly program called Book Hounds. From 4-5 p.m., on the second Wednesday of every month, man’s best friend inhabits the Lincoln Township Library.
Stay and Obey, a Stevensville dog training business, volunteers some of its dogs to be read to by children who are trying to better their reading skills.
Mary Ann Ware, a library associate for outreach/programming, said bringing in dogs for kids to read to has become a popular fixture in most library circles. The program began when Lisa Antonini, owner of Stay and Obey, reached out to library officials after she heard about the idea from a rescue group she worked with. Since then, Antonini has been bringing her dogs along with a few of her clients for more than a year.
“Lisa was kind enough to donate her services and have some clients she brings along that were a good match for the program,” Ware said. “Studies show kids that have an opportunity to read to someone who is not critical in how they read improve their fluency and self-confidence.”
Antonini said she thought it would be a one-and-done type of program. However, the turnout continues to increase a year later. Antonini said the program not only helps children, but dogs as well.
“One of the things that surprises me the most about Book Hounds is we have a pit bull named Queenie, who is an absolute doll,” Antonini said. “She is just the perfect definition of what a pit bull really is. To have parents and kids come in and gravitate toward her is nice to see. She’s actually one of the favorites.”
There is no age range for kids who are welcomed to the one-hour reading session. Ware said it’s mostly kids who are in second grade and younger that show up.
It’s easy to see which kids are new and which are regulars. Some make their trek around the room, while others call out each dog by their name before sitting down next to them.
As it has grown in popularity, Ware allows the kids to read in 20-minute time slots. The room that houses the dogs has enough space for 18 kids.
Stevensville resident Dee Appleman has been coming to Book Hounds with her dogs since it started. On Wednesday, she had with her two labs ‒ Cooper and Zion ‒ who she trains to be service dogs.
Appleman said she heard about Book Hounds when she attended obedience classes at Stay and Obey. She has attended a similar program at the Bridgman Public Library.
“I like bringing the dogs, to get them out to see the kids. It’s also nice to see the kids interact with them,” Appleman said. “It’s a non-pressure atmosphere for kids to read out loud. We’re not going to correct them. We don’t care how they pronounce words. The dogs don’t care. It’s just about gaining confidence and learning how to read.”
Antonini also attends, but does not come to Book Hounds alone.
She brings with her Mack, a 4-year-old Neapolitan mastiff and pit bull mix.
“Mack loves Book Hounds,” she said. “The whole purpose is to encourage kids to read. It’s so fun to see the kids reading and they really think the dog is listening. Sometimes they show them the pictures from the book. The dogs love it, the kids love it.”
To register for Book Hounds, parents are asked to contact the library by calling 429-9575. Walk-ins are welcome, but those who register are given preference. If anyone has a dog and would like to join Book Hounds, they can call Stay and Obey at 465-6239.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 15, 2015)