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Children find an attentive audience at Lodi Library

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Posted: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:48 am, Tue Aug 14, 2012.

With her hand pointing to each word on the page, 11-year-old Paola Rodriguez steadily reads the rhyming words of Dr. Seuss' "Fox In Socks."

Next to her, lying on her back with her paws in the air, is Eele, a 5-year-old American dingo. Rodriguez shyly giggles when Eele licks her elbow.

"It's fun," Rodriguez says about reading to Eele. "It's nice that someone hears us read. Pets, especially dogs, like to listen to us."

Eele is the newest addition to the Lodi Public Library's Paws to Read program, which gives kids the opportunity to read to a non-judgmental, furry buddy.

Eele and her owner Joan Gibson joined the library's Paws to Read program in July after volunteering for the same program at Galt's Marian O. Lawrence Library.

"One of the things I was seeing is she needed a job because she is high-energy. ... It seemed to serve her purpose," Gibson said. "I tell her we are going to go see boys and girls, and she knows exactly what we are going to do."

The story times let children work on their pronunciation skills and help them get over any nervousness that comes from reading out loud, library services director Nancy Martinez said. Each kid picks out a book — either a favorite or a new one — to read to the dogs.

Lodi's program has been a success since Fuzzy, a 6-pound Maltese-teacup poodle mix, started listening to kids read in December 2010. Fuzzy comes every week on Sunday, and Eele will come twice a month on Monday nights.

Six kids lined up at the door waiting for their turn to read to Eele on Monday. Ruby Rodriguez, 8, read a book titled "Sleep, Sheep the Sheep," which prompted a yawn from Eele. Then, 10-year-old Max Tapia started smiling when Eele put her head on his book, "Can I Play Too?" and stared up at him.

Library staff wanted to offer another story time because so many people have responded to reading to Fuzzy, said Yvette Herrera, the literacy program coordinator. Eight children joined Eele for her first session in July.

Children who have difficulty reading may be embarrassed to read out loud in front of their teacher and classmates, but not when they read to a dog, Martinez said.

"Studies document that these programs improve a child's ability to read and their confidence when reading aloud," Martinez said.

Eele, who Gibson adopted from the Humane Society when she was 10 months old, went through a training course to become a therapy dog. Fuzzy was originally a therapy dog that got training specifically for the reading program.

Nationally, the first similar program, called the Reading Education Assistance Dog (READ) program, started in 1999 in Salt Lake Public Library.

Eele is at the library on the second and fourth Mondays of every month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Fuzzy is at the library from 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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