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Children 'paws' to read
Therapy dogs help kids hone literacy skills
Dog WEB 1
Ryan Baltzglier browses books to read to a dog Wednesday at the Cumming Library. The effort is part of Humane Hearts Pet Therapy program where dogs help children with reading skills. - photo by Autumn Vetter

How to sign up

• Visit or any branch to register for a 15-minute spot with a dog.

• To learn more about Humane Hearts, visit

Jack Stevens sat down on a recent afternoon with a book about a boy and his dog.

Then the 6-year-old read it to a golden retriever who’d been waiting to hear the next story at the Cumming library.

Rockne “loves coming to libraries to hear kids read,” said his owner, Debbie Morley.

The therapy dog has been using his training to help people in a variety of ways, Morley said, but only recently discovered his love for books.

The Humane Hearts Pet Therapy program started in 1994 at the Humane Society of Forsyth County and has served in a variety of volunteer and educational roles, according to the organization’s Web site.

Visits to the Forsyth County Public Library became regular two months ago through the Paws to Read program, in which children can sign up for a 15-minute time slot with a dog.

Morley said therapy dogs can help kids with reading skills simply by listening.

“Dogs don’t judge. They don’t correct. They don’t get impatient,” she said.

She said 5-year-old Rockne was a “natural” as a therapy dog for reading. He’s gentle with children and lies down and listens while they sound out the words.

Stevens laughed when Rockne decided to rest on top of his library book from the “Henry and Mudge” series, and then he petted him after he finished the story.

His mother, Tina, said they happened to walk by the room and see the dogs, so she asked if her son could participate.

“Now he’s addicted,” she told the library staff with a laugh on her way out.

Denise Leeson, youth services specialist at the Cumming branch, said the humane society has held educational programs in the past, so it was a natural fit to extend its reading therapy program to the library.

Beginning in October, the library has offered the program once a month at each of the three branches, Leeson said.

“It helps their out-loud skills, so they’re calmer,” she said of the benefits. “It’s just a good audience.”

Anna Kaye Walter, 6, likes dogs and reading, so when her mom signed her up for a library card, she also registered her for Paws to Read.

Walter shared “Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia,” with Ty, a wire-haired dachshund.

She’s certain he enjoyed the book too.