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Dogs Help Youngsters To Read

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Reading is arguably one of the most important lessons learned in school, but literacy can be a challenge for some students.

The classroom can be intimidating for kids who struggle.

The Hennepin County Library System is teaming up with North Star Therapy Animals to change that with a program meant to give kids confidence when they open a book.

"I like reading at school and I usually read big books," said Jacob Zuniga, who took part in Paws to Read.

As 10-year-old Jacob Zuniga takes on "Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School," he has a unique audience.

A golden retriever named Lucy offers quiet encouragement.

"I like dogs and they're my favorite animal," Zuniga said.

Lucy is part of Paws to Read. It is a program with a simple concept -- pair therapy dogs with kids learning how to read.

"The animal is just going to listen. No one is going to say, 'You said that word wrong,' or 'That isn't right,'" said Gloria Busch, a librarian at Pierre Bottineau Library.

Paws to Read offers a judgment-free space that instantly puts youngsters at ease. It gives confidence to 6-year-old Deidrick Taylor, who is still learning the basics. Jasmine Smoter, 11, is grateful for a reading companion.

"My friends usually just walk away when I start to read," Jasmine Smoter said.

Age or ability has no meaning to the animals. Everyone gets undivided attention.

The next Paws to Read event at the Pierre Bottineau Library will be held from 10:30 a.m. until noon on Oct. 13. There will be other Paws to Read events at other Hennepin County Library locations. Click here and search "Paws to Read" for the listings.

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