I'm a big fan of programs that bring youngsters and pets together.
The upsides are huge and the impact can last a lifetime.
One such program is Paws to Read, offered at various branches of the Halifax Public Libraries system.
The program, for students in Grades 1 to 5, has proven so popular that three new teams were recently added to three libraries.
The program is brilliant in its simplicity and execution but provides benefits for the youngsters that can truly be life changing.
Paws to Read pairs up kiddos who are perhaps reluctant readers or those who need to brush up a bit on the skill. Naturally, the youngsters are probably a bit shy to read in front of their peers or even their parents so are matched up with a pooch who is trained for just such a task.
Nancy Vanstone of Halifax visits Central Library with her beloved Colby, a 10-year-old Australian Labradoodle.
The pair have been at it for six years and she loves to see the kids blossom when they read to Colby, who will not pass judgment on their mispronunciations or stumbles over words.
“I really enjoy working with the children — seeing the change. It's a five-week program and at the beginning they're a little nervous ... but by the time we're in the second or third week, they're so much more comfortable.”
Paws to Read is a partnership between the library system and Therapeutic Dogs of Canada, which assesses the dogs and their people for suitability for the program. Dogs need to have about a year's experience with therapy work before being certified to help children.
Vanstone and Colby have also worked in nursing homes and schools.
She said the library sessions are great because they help so many kids in need, including new immigrants or youngsters in French immersion who want to work on their reading skills in English.
Library staff co-ordinate registration and assess the children's level of reading and interests to help pick out appropriate books to read.
At the end of the five weeks, the youngsters receive a graduation certificate and a photo of their reading partner.
The program is currently offered in seven branches, with three new pups having recently been added to the roster, including Rosebud at Alderney Gate, Hudson at Central and Sophie at Woodlawn.
Other branches offering the program include Bedford, Keshen Goodman, J.D. Shatford Memorial and Sackville.
Vanstone said she's not a teacher by trade — she's a retired government employee — but has always been interested in programs that bring children and dogs together.
“I love reading and literacy programs and thought this was a great combination.”
She said the library program is very successful and they could use more qualified dogs to meet the demand. They would also expand their service at schools if they had more teams.
She said Colby is as enthusiastic about the program as she is.
“He loves when he sees his little red vest come out.”
Pat Lee is a volunteer with various animal welfare groups and a freelance columnist. Follow her on Facebook at Pat Lee's Pet Corner.