Once a month, the Pembroke Public Library offers Puppy Dog Tales, where kids, parents and caregivers are welcomed to read to certified therapy dogs.

Hilliard, a yellow lab, is a regular visitor to the Pembroke Public Library.

Once a month, therapy dogs, including Hilliard, come together for Puppy Dog Tales, where kids, parents and caregivers are welcomed to read to certified therapy dogs.

“Kids really enjoy learning to read and reading out loud is very hard for them, so having a cuddly dog there to listen definitely helps them out and Hilliard loves the attention… so it works both ways,” said Hilliard’s trainer, Jenn Salas, of Pembroke.

Salas has been bringing her 9-year-old lab to the library for about two years now.

Hilliard has been certified as a reading therapy team for four years, and together with Salas as a therapy dog team for seven years.

“It brings me happiness that I can help somebody out,” said Salas. “I love helping people.”

Melissa McCleary, Youth Services Librarian at the Pembroke Public Library heard about how successful and fun the Puppy Dog Tales program was at other libraries. Three years ago, when she started at Pembroke Public Library, she introduced the program and has been receiving positive feedback ever since.

McCleary recalled an instance where a child brought in a reader they received from a literacy class they were struggling in, and that night the child went around to all three dogs that were present and gained so much confidence that by the end of the night, the child appeared happier to read the story. Their parent mentioned that reading was always such a chore for the child and Puppy Dog Tales was something to look forward, said McCleary.

McCleary explained that this program is a great way to assist early readers or struggling readers.

“It’s a program for kids to develop their literacy as well as their presentation skills and build their self-confidence and self-esteem in a very supportive and nonjudgmental environment because as they’re reading, a dog is not going to think ‘gosh they stumbled over a word’ or ‘that’s not how you say that’,” said McCleary. “They’ll just sit and listen and if the kids want to they’ll except pets and be a calm presence while they are working their way through the text or the presentation.”

The program is for readers of all ages, as McCleary has seen pre-readers as young as 2-years-old, up to high schoolers who come in to practice their presentations.

McCleary said that children and teens will bring a book or presentation that they’re actively working on, she sees many bring reports, a book from literacy class to practice more, but most of the kids do select a book day of from the library table.

Usually McCleary selects newer books, but they range from wordless picture books so pre-readers can tell the story of the pictures, to easy books with just a few words per page, up to full sentence books.

Monthly, McCleary said they usually see up to 20 kids and their caregivers, with the average age at the first-grade level (ages 6-7-years-old), but there are several kindergarteners, second graders, as well as fourth and fifth grade regulars who always come very excited to read to the dogs.

Currently they have six trainers with their own dogs and they usually rotate to have at least 1-3 dogs available for each session.

“It’s wonderful to see how this program has caught on with both the trainers and the caregivers and the kids themselves,” said McCleary. “Everyone always gets so excited and we have even seen some improvement as we go along or more confidence around the dogs and the books. Overall it’s been a hugely successful program.

“We always get such wonderful comments or see such big smiles, which of course speak for themselves,” added McCleary. “We are very excited that this program took off so splendidly and has worked so well for everyone in the community.”

At the end of the kids’ and teens’ reading sessions, they’re welcomed to get a stamp on their hand from the puppy and trainer, each puppy has their own unique sticker so they are able to collect them throughout the evening.

Salas said she and Hilliard are hoping to attend this month’s Puppy Dog Tales because they always dress up for the October session. Last year Hilliard was a dinosaur, but Salas wouldn’t reveal what this year’s costume will be, keeping it a surprise.

Puppy Dog Tales is typically scheduled for the third Thursday of every month (permitted for change around holidays and snow days). The next one is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 19 at 4:15 p.m. The monthly program is usually scheduled for 45 minutes in the large meeting room, to the right of the library entrance. Puppy Dog Tales is a drop-in event, there is no need to sign up prior.

The Pembroke Public Library is located at 142 Center St.