By Mary Huhn January 9, 2015 | 6:54pm
Small and cozy, powerHouse on 8th in Park Slope is usually library-quiet as shoppers peruse the bookshelves. But on a recent Friday morning, 25 kindergarteners took over the store to read to their pals Barker, Willow, Karat, Rupee, Bica and Toffee.
The students from PS 107 are mingling with specially trained mutts from the Good Dog Foundation, a local organization that hosts reading programs throughout the tri-state region with help from their therapy pooches.
Katherine Eban, founder of the school’s Beast Relief committee, got the idea to bring dogs, kids and books together from a Cape Cod, Mass. library, which held similar events during her family’s summer vacations.
“My kids absolutely love it,” says Eban. “I was struck by how focused the kids seem to be on their ‘mission’ of reading well to the dogs.”
At Good Dog, volunteer handlers and their dogs must complete an 11-week training program to become certified.
“We work with students just beginning to read, students struggling to read and older students who are learning English as a second language,” says Alexandra Fine, a senior development and communications associate at Good Dog.
Reading to dogs can help boost kids’ confidence and get them excited about reading.
“Some children feel anxious about reading in front of other students. It can be daunting,” says Fine. “Dogs patiently listen as students practice their skills in a supportive environment with a non-judgmental, furry listener. [It] makes reading enjoyable and fun, instead of scary.”
Willow, a 4-year-old white standard poodle with orange-painted nails, is particularly popular. One girl hugs and kisses her, as the owner, Alison Kelley [Tenant at 85 Eastern Parkway], tells students that Willow has a skateboard. Across the room, Oscar looks up from “Harry the Dirty Dog” to ask Toffee, a 1 ½- year-old Yorkshire terrier, if he takes baths. His owner, Karen Osorio from Forest Hills, Queens, replies yes, and that he “wears a shower cap.”
Upstate at Rockland County’s Hudson Valley Visiting Pets’ similar program, “Paws for Reading,” the sessions are limited to one kid and one “Pet Partner therapy team, “ consisting of a dog and the animal’s handler, says Risa Hoag, director of the Hudson Valley program.
Paws for Reading is an affiliate of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program developed in Salt Lake City 15 years ago. Hoag, a licensed R.E.A.D. instructor, got involved a decade ago when she saw how her pet, Annie, now 11, gravitated to a relative with cancer. “She put her head in her lap and it felt like she understood her and wanted to make her better.”