Bryson Fiterre, 4 11/12 years old, doesn’t read yet, but he knows how to turn the pages of a book for Joaquin. Joaquin, for his part, is in listening mode, eyes closed and flopped over on his side as Jennifer Fiterre, Bryson’s mother, reads aloud.
The combination of kids, dogs and books isn’t new in El Dorado County, but the place that combination comes together once a month, is. The Marshall Community Health Library in Cameron Park recently added a new program, “Happy Tails,” on the fourth Thursday of each month, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, June 27, was the first “Tails of Health” and an Alaskan Malamute, Alex, and a German shepherd, Joaquin, were the guests of honor.
Both dogs are specially trained American Kennel Club therapy dogs. Joaquin, 7, also has international status as a therapy dog.
“He was born in Sweden and he is so sweet and well-trained,” said owner and trainer Violet Jakaba, who recently acquired Joaquin’s brother, also.
Alex, 12, a former champion on the dog show circuit, with a title for weight pulling and sled pulling, has been a Hangtown Kennel Club AKC therapy dog for five or six years, according to owner and trainer Chuck Wilson.
Haley, 11, and Bryson Fiterre signed up for the reading hour and excitedly brought their own books to share with the dogs. The health library has plenty of children’s books for kids to read.
“That’s part of the reason we wanted to do this program, “said Alison Clement, librarian for the Health Library. “We wanted children and their parents to know that we have all kinds of books for children here.”
Some of the books are regular picture books found in many libraries but many of them are special books — ones that address health and social issues and difficult subjects at a child’s level of understanding.
“Allie the Allergic Elephant” explains about living with allergies; “No Bigger than my Teddy Bear” is about a new baby in the family and “Always and Forever” deals with a death in the family.
Other books deal with bullying, having an ill parent, juvenile diabetes, obesity and many other subjects.
“We know that reading with dogs is beneficial for children and it is very popular at our county libraries,” said Clement. “Some of the Hangtown Kennel Club AKC therapy dogs visit patients in the Transition Unit at Marshall and we decided to make the most of our connections. Children get to boost their confidence in their reading ability in a quiet, positive space and enjoy interaction with friendly dogs … the dogs also thrive on the interaction.”
Parents who want to visit the Health Library to do research on health topics or social issues can browse while their children are happily occupied in the children’s section right next to them, with or without the dogs.
“We also put the books on parenting next to the children’s section when we planned the library,” said Clement.
The kids spend a lot of time just hugging and petting the dogs.
Haley, reads “Ten Ladybugs” to Alex who listens with a smile on his furry face, before switching to a comic book.
Bryson decided that Joaquin was trustworthy enough to share his stuffed dinosaur with. The German shepherd responded by laying a massive paw on the boy’s tiny shoe.
Debra Kelley of the Hangtown Kennel Club coordinates Marshall’s dog programs with her own yellow lab, Lucy, Dharma the dalmatian, corgis Parker and Posy, and Alex and Joaquin.
“All of the dogs have passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluation and are well-trained,” said Kelley.
To sign your child up for the next fourth Thursday “Happy Tails” call the Health Library at 530-626-2778 or visit the library at 3581 Palmer Drive, Suite 101 in Cameron Park.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.