SUISUN CITY — You could not find a more attentive listener.
Cooper crouched next to Amara Bennett, patiently listening Wednesday afternoon as the 7-year-old Suisun City girl read to the black-and-white canine at the Suisun City Library.
“He put his head on my knees,” said Amara, who said it was very easy to read to Cooper.
For his attentiveness, Cooper, a Coton de Tulear, was rewarded with a snack from each child who read to him that afternoon.
Mother Natalie Bennett seemed to enjoy her child’s reading to Cooper as much as Amara did.
“We will definitely be back next Wednesday,” Bennett said of her family’s first experience with the Paws for Reading program, which is offered at the Suisun City and the county’s other libraries.
The Suisun City Library has had the program for about three years. It has been available at other libraries in the area since 2009.
Paws for Reading is a literacy program that sends owners and their dogs, who are trained to calmly listen to the children, to libraries, classrooms and after-school programs in Solano, Napa and Sonoma counties to help children improve their reading skills.
It is an offshoot of the Napa-based nonprofit Paws for Healing, which trains dogs and their handlers to provide canine-assisted therapy for local hospitals, mental health facilities, day care centers, special education classes and assisted living center.
Mike Perkins, children’s librarian at the Suisun City Library, said it is all about being a good listener, and Cooper certainly fits the bill. He also has worked as a therapy dog.
Each child gets 10 to 15 minutes to read to Cooper. The idea is to give the children more confidence in their reading.
In school, children are encouraged to read aloud to their classmates, but that becomes a challenge for those who are timid, Perkins said. But with dogs like Cooper, that intimidation is not there. It allows the child to explore words and books without any pressure, correction or judgment.
“With Read to a Dog, there is no one there to judge them,” Perkins said. “It creates a more casual environment for them to practice their reading. It is also another way to get young people into the library.”
Cooper’s owner is retired teacher Linda Paulson, who brings Cooper to the library every Wednesday afternoon. Two other dogs, Shire and Bullet, do the reading duties on Monday afternoons, “but they may be taking a break for the summer,” Perkins said.
Perkins joined Paws for Reading shortly after she retired from teaching and loves it, she said, because she gets to “interact with the kids, which is the best part of teaching.”
Each branch of the Solano County library has a Read to a Dog program. For the days and times, go to www.solanolibrary.com/programs and click on branch calendars. For more information about Paws for Reading and Paws for Healing, go to www.pawsforhealing.org.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.