By Claire Walla
After strolling through the Hampton Library with their father one Saturday afternoon, nine-year-old Sean Murphree and his sister Keara (six) stumbled upon something quite unexpected.
Standing there in the middle of the library’s children’s section were two pooches named Lucie and Miele, panting profusely as they waited for kids like Sean and Keara to come take notice.
The dogs were visiting as part of the library’s outreach initiative to help kids develop reading skills.
“The real idea behind it is to help kids relax when they read,” said children’s librarian Emily Herrick. “Basically, a dog is a non-judgmental listener.”
It took a minute to get the high energy lab mixes to relax, but Sean and Keara quickly chose their narratives and dove into their texts. Keara — an animal lover who said she normally reads to her cat — took breaks from her book, “Sally Goes to the Beach,” to address Miele directly, even petting the top of her head. Sean settled effortlessly into “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever.” But eventually Keara read uninterrupted, and the dogs, like any good listeners, sat patiently absorbing every word.
“Reading out loud is a good skill to develop,” Herrick said. In addition to absorbing the fundamentals of speech, she added, “It’s another way of developing confidence, just like public speaking.”
Lucie and Miele (who belong to Herrick) were brought in when Maxx, a white cockapoo and certified therapy dog, never showed up. Thankfully, Herrick said only one kid who signed up to read with the dog was there, and her own dogs were readily available.
“Mine are strictly pinch-hitting today,” Herrick mused.
Librarians hope Maxx will be available for another reading session on August 13. Though Sean and Keara weren’t expecting canine companions, they seemed to be pleasantly surprised to find them ready to listen.
“Is it more fun to read to a dog than to mom or dad?” asked Jeff Murphree, the children’s father.
Both kids smiled, then answered in unison.