Therapy Dog Zara listens to stories, at Sellwood Branch Library
by: Ann Knutson, When young readers want to hone their skills, Therapy Dog Zara is all ears.

Every Wednesday evening, The Sellwood-Moreland Branch Library goes to the dogs -- well, just one, actually, and she comes to us.

The 'Read to the Dogs'[SM] program pairs young readers with trained dog-and-handler teams from DoveLewis and, at Sellwood-Moreland Library, we are lucky to have volunteers Zara and David.

Zara just turned seven on April 14, making her our youngest volunteer at the library, but she has had a lot of experience. Prior to becoming a Therapy Dog, Zara was a Guide Dog, from Guide Dogs for the Blind. She was retired from the program for health reasons. She and her handler David have been a DoveLewis Animal Assisted Therapy and Education Program team for two and half years.

David is a teacher of the blind and visually impaired for the Columbia Regional Vision Program. He primarily teaches Orientation and Mobility, which involves teaching cane skills, listening skills, independent travel, and community safety. His students range in age from 2 to 21 years old.

David and Zara became a 'Read to the Dogs' team because of the therapeutic benefits of interacting with animals, especially on stress levels. David says: 'I think Zara has such a sweet temperament and love for people that you can feel it when you're with her. I'm sure that reading aloud, especially if you are a new reader, can be difficult, if not stressful. I enjoy watching Zara put children at ease, and help make reading fun. It seems like a perfectly good way to spend our Wednesday evenings. There is also the added benefit of keeping up with all the latest in children's books.'

Zara enjoys hearing all kinds of stories, though her readers often choose stories about dogs. If her reader chooses to pet her while reading a story, she likes it even better.

Readers participating in the program choose their own books to read, either from the library shelves or from home. They then have a chance to read to Zara in a quiet spot in the library, with David nearby.

Those interested in reading to Zara can sign up for a half-hour session on an upcoming Wednesday evening by calling 503/988-5398, or by stopping by the branch library, on the corner of S.E. 13th and Bidwell, in Sellwood.

And those interested in learning more about the DoveLewis Animal Assisted Therapy and Education Program can visit online:

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