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No judgement, just tail wagging: Cute dogs encourage reading at area libraries

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Posted at 5:29 PM, Apr 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-17 11:26:31-04

INDIANAPOLIS — One-in-five third graders failed their ISTEP reading test last year, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

But some parents, librarians and educators think that cute dogs might hold the key to reversing that trend.

"She's just a good listener," said Allison Lewis, who with her 10-year-old golden retriever mix, Roxie, volunteered at the Glendale Branch Library's "Paws to Read" program Tuesday night.

"They're the perfect buddy for learning to read. The kids really just seem to come out of their shell far more than if a dog wasn't there."

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Ruth Streit, 6, reads to Roxie, a 10-year-old Golden Retriever mix, at the Glendale Branch Library's Paws to Read program.

Roxie has been a reading buddy for about six years, Lewis said. Her job is to help kids feel comfortable and confident enough to read a book out loud.

"The dog makes a difference," said Jenna Streit, who visited Roxie with her 6-year-old daughter, Ruth.

"It can be hard at the end of the day of a long school day to sit down and practice reading a little bit longer," Streit said. "But having a cute pup beside you can certainly help."

Roxie appears to love the attention.

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Ruth Streit, 6, reads to Roxie, a 10-year-old Golden Retriever mix, at the Glendale Branch Library's Paws to Read program.

"They like to kind of choose books they think Roxie would like to listen to, which is always really cute," Lewis said.

Roxie went through intense training before becoming certified as a therapy dog.

"She has to be able to approach a wheelchair and have someone in the wheelchair offer her food, and she has to say no to it," Lewis said.

Roxie, a 10-year-old Golden Retriever mix, and Allison Lewis are volunteers with the Glendale Branch Library's Paws to Read program.

"We had to take her through what they call the gauntlet, which is like an area filled with treats, cheese, toys and all the things dogs would want... and she has to avoid all of it."

Paws to Read at the Glendale Branch and other area libraries is run by the Indianapolis non-profit Paws & Think, which trains therapy dogs and their handlers for use in hospitals, libraries and other settings.

Dogs make a great audience, Lewis said, because they don't judge and don't care if a child mispronounces a word or needs help.

Nancy Poppleton, Glendale branch children's librarian, said the dogs do wonders to instill confidence in early readers.

"This is a game changer," Poppleton said. "Kids who are reluctant readers or think they don't like reading, this makes it so much more palatable for them because the dog doesn't do anything except for wag its tail and be excited that you are there."

Ruth Streit, a kindergarten student at Clearwater Elementary School, was among about a half dozen kids who read to Roxie Tuesday.

“This is the book I read, it’s called "Linn Shops for Pug," Ruth said, holding the book in her hands just minutes after her visit with her new canine reading buddy. “It was like I was reading to my little sister but it was actually a dog."

Ruth is a good sibling to her 3-year-old sister Betsy, mom Jenna Streit said.

”Well, her sister is definitely less furry than Roxie," Jenna Streit said, "but she's also a good listener.”

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at or on X/Twitter: @vicryc.