Donna Bardon, a therapy dog handler, takes Woody to the Edwardsville Public Library once a month.
Bardon, who works at Got Your Six – an organization that trains service dogs for veterans and first responders with PTSD – said she originally got Woody as a rescue dog to be trained as a walking companion for her daughter, who is disabled.
Bardon said reading to a dog makes kids less self-conscious, because Woody never interrupts or corrects.
“Occasionally we get a kid who’s afraid of dogs and my approach is, ‘You don’t have to touch Woody and if you want to read from over there, that’s fine and he can enjoy the story,’” Bardon said. “Generally, by the time the 15 minutes is up they’ve got their arms around Woody.”
Megan Prueter, head of Youth Services at the Edwardsville Public Library, said these events are a fun way to get kids comfortable with reading out loud because they won’t be judged.
“Whether you mess up or not, the dog’s not going to know, so it’s really just having something there that’s calming and cute, something that’s nice, and you’re not focused on if you say something wrong,” Prueter said.
Prueter said although people can register for 15 minute time slots, there’s usually plenty of time for people coming into the library to read to the dogs too.
“It just makes everyone happy and you get to love on the dog and read, so it’s just really calm, just a fun thing to do and come and hang out at the library with the dog,” Prueter said.
Bardon said while the organization’s main business is to train service dogs for veterans and first responders with PTSD, Woody also visits nursing homes, particularly Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
“They want to talk about their dogs. You’re dealing with long-term memory as opposed to short-term memory because they’re not going to remember what they had for lunch, but they do remember their childhood," Bardon said.
Bardon said Got Your Six was started to try to meet the high demand for service dogs, as she said it takes a year to train a service dog and there are not many nationally recognized service organizations that train dogs for PTSD. She said each dog is customized to the person to whom it will be assigned.
“If a person is paralyzed on their left side, the dog will be taught to walk on the right side. It will be trained to pick things up off the floor if the person couldn’t reach,” Bardon said.
Prueter said Bardon and Woody come one Saturday each month, and another dog named Max comes one Tuesday each month. Appointments can be made on the library website.