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Kids read, dogs listen

Reading a book: Aiden Ledgard, a third-grader at Creekside Elementary School, reads a book on Siberian huskies to Pete, a 4-year-old a therapy dog, while classmate Payton Payne listens. Next week, Creekside will incorporate Suffolk Humane Society’s B.A.R.K.S. reading program.

When 4-year-old Pete visited the Creekside Library, Aiden Ledgard couldn’t wait to read to him.

As soon as media specialist Kim Richardson gave the OK, the third-grader hopped from his seat to find a book that he thought Pete, a Labrador retriever, would enjoy.

Aiden picked a book about Siberian huskies to share, hurried back to Pete’s side and plopped down next to the dog.

In a clear, loud voice, Aiden started reading, while Pete lay down to listen to every word.

The student went to turn the first page but stopped suddenly.

“Oops, I forgot to show you the picture,” Aiden said.

He turned the book to Pete to reveal a photo of another dog staring back at him.

Sure, the book wasn’t about his breed, but Pete didn’t mind. He just enjoys listening, and that’s what makes him such a perfect fit for Suffolk Humane Society’s Books and Reading for Kids in Suffolk, or BARKS, program.

The program pairs students who have trouble reading with certified therapy dogs that will be non-judgmental listeners while the children to practice their skills.

Suffolk Humane holds BARKS once a month at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on North Main Street, but next week, Creekside will incorporate the program at its building.

Richardson said she hopes having the program at Creekside will help students build confidence about reading.

“We’re really excited about it,” she said. “We’re going to look for children who think they would enjoy talking to the dogs to help with reading skills.”

The BARKS program will start next Friday at Creekside, and Richardson said she hopes to have it every week.

Pete’s owner and Suffolk Humane volunteer Mary-Beth Moore said she thinks the program is amazing for children.

“It gets kids interested in reading again,” she said. “They open up so much.”

Moore and Pete, along with several other Suffolk Humane members, are visiting Creekside this week to introduce the program and the dogs to the children in the library classes.

The volunteers also are doing presentations to teach the students about humane and proper care for animals.

The BARKS program started approximately two years ago, and recently, Suffolk Humane received a $500 grant from the Marylee Chaski Charitable Corp. to purchase new books and supplies.

Suffolk Humane president Michele Thames said she hopes to get books about having compassion for all living things, along with rolling bags for volunteers to use and bookmarks or other souvenirs for the children.

Moore said she thinks the program is so successful, because dogs aren’t critical if a student has trouble reading.

“They’re not going to judge,” she said. “You can mess up, and they don’t mind. They are just happy to be there and listen.”

Thames said it’s important to teach children when they are young how important it is to care for animals, which is the mission of the group’s Humane Education Department.

There are 15 therapy dogs that participate in BARKS, and in addition to the program at Creekside, the group is going to continue its program at the library in St. Paul’s.

Thames said the group will meet every month on either Wednesdays or Thursdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and students and parents can just show up if they want to attend.

For more information on BARKS, visit www.suffolkhumanesociety.com/programs.