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Dix Hills library hosts reading event for kids, dogs

Julia Spilabotte, 9, of Melville, reads to Bella,

Julia Spilabotte, 9, of Melville, reads to Bella, a therapy dog, at the Half Hollow Hills Library in Dix Hills. (Feb. 15, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

As children learning to read were paired with a reading companion Tuesday night at a Half Hollow Hills Library program, they could be sure they wouldn’t be criticized, corrected or told to try again.

Instead, they got an expert listener sitting patiently at their side -- and maybe an encouraging nudge from a cold, wet nose. Their companions were dogs.

At Puppy Tales, a monthly event the Half Hollow Hills Library, children who are learning to read or trying to improve are invited to read a book of their choice to one of the therapy dogs the library brings in.

Lisa Kropp, head of children’s services, said the program is a huge success because children who are hesitant about reading focus on visiting with the dog and forget their inhibitions.

“It’s really wonderful,” she said. “The dogs help the children stay motivated.”

On Tuesday night, Julia Spilabotte, 9, of Melville, read quickly through a book she picked up at the library as Bella, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, lounged on her lap.

Julia said she’s been coming to the library’s program and similar dog therapy programs since she first started reading, and now she’s a seasoned reader.

“When I first started reading I needed a lot of help,” she said. “But now I just love the dogs.”

She said that when she was learning to read, she liked reading to the dogs because she wasn’t afraid to make a mistake.

“When you don't know how to say something or you mess up a word,” she said. “They don’t even understand.”

Bella was accompanied at the library by Winston, a pug, and Gigi, a terrier mix -- all licensed therapy dogs brought to the library by their owners.

Lauren Greenberg, of Melville, who brought Bella and Winston, said she first started working with therapy dogs about 10 years ago and has seen a tremendous success in educating the children that work with them. Greenberg brings her dogs to the Half Hollow Hills Library and to local schools.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “The kids practice so they can read better to the dog the next time they come.”

Harold Wolff, 79, of Melville, adopted Gigi from the North Shore Animal League about a year ago, and his daughter-in-law suggested they get her certified as a therapy dog when they saw how calm she was.

Wolff said he wishes he could bring Gigi to the library seven days a week for the joy it gives him to see the children interact with the dog and grow as readers.

“It’s a thrill to come here and to see what she can do,” he said.

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