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To Help Kids Read, Fresno Library Program Brings In Dogs

Diana Aguilera
Valley Public Radio
Sisters Taylor, Aria, and Nevaeh visit the Tail Waggin Tutors program for the first time at the Clovis Library on Sunday June 14.

Parents often wonder how they can get their children to read and at the same time have their kids enjoy doing so. As FM89’s Diana Aguilera reports, one library in Clovis is inspiring children to open up books with the help of a four legged friend.

“So who’s going to read first today? This is Atlas,” says Mary Catalano.

Catalano is at the Clovis Regional Library with her yellow Labrador named Atlas. The nine-year-old dog is laying on the ground surrounded by kids. 

The two are volunteering as part of the Tail Waggin' Tutors program through Therapy Dog International. The idea is to help children improve their literacy skills by having them read to a dog in a relaxing environment.

"Dogs are a non-threatening listener. They don't correct them, they don't laugh at them, and they don't care if they make mistakes." -Mary Catalano

“I tell the kids that Atlas doesn’t care if they turn two pages or skip a paragraph or don’t know a word. He just wants to listen to them read," Catalano says.

Kids can show up every Sunday to read with a dog at the library. For some it’s their first time and for others like eight-year-old Andrew Zoller it’s turned into something he looks forward to every weekend. Andrew likes to read comic books, this time he’s reading The Smurfs.

Credit Diana Aguilera / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Andrew Zoller, 8, reads one of his favorite comic books to Bailey.

“The storm is finally breaking let’s take shelter,” says Andrew.

He’s been reading with the dogs at this program for roughly three years. Andrew’s mother Jodie says the program has had a big impact on her son’s reading skills. They try to go every weekend.

“His reading level has tripled. He’s going into fourth grade but he reads almost at six grade level,” Jodie Zoller says. “We work with him though this helps him gain more confidence in reading as well.”

She says it’s been easy for her to take Andrew to the library since he loves dogs.

“Dogs are just there to love if he doesn’t feel like reading he doesn’t have to,” Zoller says.

"It's very stress reducing and anxiety reducing to be in the company of a calm companion animal like a dog." -Jyothi Bathina

The program was originally targeted to help children who were a bit shy, who might have had some type of disability or who were second language learners. But research has shown that it provides tremendous benefits to any child.

“Children open up to animals often better than they do to adults,” says Jyothi Bathina, a reading expert at Fresno State. “It’s very stress reducing and anxiety reducing to be in the company of a calm companion animal like a dog.”

Even kids who excel in school can benefit from this.

“Gifted children who often get bored in a classroom now have a calming influence where they enjoy reading and are not focused on achievement alone,” Bathina says. “So it does help all level of kids and kids of all backgrounds.”

Back in Clovis, a group of kids show up at the library and head straight to Atlas, the dog.

Catalano: “Hi guys are you here to read to the dog today?” Aria: “I don’t know how to read.” Catalano : “That’s OK tell him a story about the pictures.” Aria: “He’s a good dog.”

The Tail Waggin' Tutors are available every Sunday from 3 to 4 p.m. at the Clovis Regional Library. The program also visits other branches of the Fresno County Public Library.

Diana Aguilera is a multimedia reporter native of Santiago, Chile. It was during her childhood in Santiago where her love for journalism sparked. Diana moved to Fresno while in her teens and is a proud graduate of California State University, Fresno. While earning her degree in journalism and minor in Latin American studies, Diana worked for the Fresno Bee. Her work as a general assignment reporter continued after college and was recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. In 2014, she joined Valley Public Radio. Her hobbies include yoga, traveling and reading.
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