VINTON–One of the most heartwarming events at the Vinton Public Library is the “Barks and Books” program. There is just something touching about seeing a child read to a dog.
Children’s Library Assistant Emily Metrock introduced the Barks and Books program to the Vinton Library in the summer of 2014, coordinating the program with Jan Stice from the Pet Partners organization. The program was so popular that it has become a regular event at the Vinton Library.
The latest visit from “Barks and Books” was on July 18. Four dogs with their handlers spent the morning from 10 a.m. until noon spread out on blankets on the floor of the meeting room to share some books about dogs with enthusiastic youngsters.
Children registered in advance to spend about 20 minutes reading individually with the dogs which have been trained and certified as therapy dogs.
Pet Partners is a “non-profit organization focused on improving human health through positive interactions with therapy, service, and companion animals. Dogs and their handlers are trained in how to successfully interact with humans, providing affection and comfort.”
Populations successfully served by therapy dogs include those with Alzheimer’s, autism, and cerebral palsy; patients with life-threatening illnesses; veterans; and children learning to read.
Pet therapy dogs and their handlers volunteer locally at the Good Samaritan Hospice and Carilion Clinic Hospice, in homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, retirement centers, and the Veteran’s Hospital.
A Westie named Roger made his debut as a therapy dog at this event. His owner Pat Quillen said that members of his breed are usually not considered to be good therapy dog candidates because they are often too high energy and even too “barky” to be calm enough to settle with children and read. However, Roger was perfectly behaved and much loved during his hour at “Barks and Books.”
His sister Ruby had been a star therapy dog for her in the past, but Quillen was amazed and gratified that Roger turned out to be equally as talented.
Quillen is the president of Star City Canine Training Club (SCCTC) which offers therapy dog training classes. She is involved in reading with children through the Pet Pals program at Carilion and with the SCCTC team who take their dogs to visit patients at the Veteran’s Care Center.
Valerie Van Dyke brought her dog Liberty, a “pound puppy,” to interact with the children at the Vinton Library. Liberty was possibly the most relaxed dog of the group, spending much of the day lying on her back getting tummy rubs. They are a relatively new team and new to the Vinton program. Van Dyke works during the day and cannot read in the school system so this weekend event was a good opportunity for the pair.
Liberty is nine years old and has always “been great with people,” according to Van Dyke.
Sherri Hill and her poodle cross Sophie have participated in the program for many years. They have read with students in local schools including Garden City, Raleigh Court, and West Salem. Sophie loves to visit with children one-on-one rather than in a crowd, and “can sit still all day long.” At one time Hill was severely injured and Sophie was a great comfort to her as she recovered. That’s when she realized that her dog would be a good candidate as a therapy dog. Hill also trains dogs herself.
Pam Murray and her Golden Retriever Teddy have been a pet therapy team for over eight years, working mostly in schools. She retired from her position as a reading professor at Mary Baldwin but found a way to maintain the reading connection. They enrolled in obedience classes at Petsmart and have taken classes with Therapets.
Jan Stice has been involved with Pet Partners for many years initially with her dog Crystal, who is now retired. Her task nowadays is to evaluate both dogs and handlers to determine their suitability for the therapy program. Handlers and dogs must be recertified every two years.
To qualify for the Pet Partners program, dogs must be able to sit, stay, come, and lie down on command. They also are evaluated on whether they can walk calmly on a loose lead, remaining under control and by their handler’s side when encountering another dog or human.
Therapy dogs must also be able to tolerate intensive petting and hugging, loud noises, crying children, and even medical equipment in health care settings. According to Stice, the three most important factors are whether the dog is controllable, reliable, and predictable.
Metrock and Stice are looking forward to the program returning once again to the Vinton Library when they are settled in their new location in downtown Vinton.