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Paws for Reading begins Monday

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Layla is 130 pounds of love.

The calm, fluffy Saint Bernard will be at the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library every other Monday, starting next week, for Paws for Reading — a chance for children to curl up with the therapy dog and read a book without facing judgment.

“We just want to keep the kids engaged with reading, so we’ll see how it works,” children’s librarian Ashley J. Pickett said.

She said struggling readers can spend 15-minute intervals reading to Layla, who happily will listen without telling them they are reading too slowly or mispronouncing a word.

“She doesn’t care,” said Layla’s owner, JoAnn M. Arcuri.

During a brief visit to the library Friday, Layla gave sloppy, wet kisses to children who got too close, then rolled over to beg for belly rubs. Nine-year-old Elizabeth G. Wells used the opportunity to read “Olivia” by Ian Falconer to the Saint Bernard. As Elizabeth read on, Layla flopped down next to her.

Being a good listener is not Layla’s purpose, however.

Ms. Arcuri uses Layla to help keep her balance, but used to bring the dog in to work when she was a substitute teacher in the Utica City School District. At the end of the day, Ms. Arcuri would take her dog to interact with students in special education classes.

“That’s how it all got started,” she said.

The program, which has been approved by the city, is a first for both Layla and the library.

“It’s going to be every other Monday for five weeks,” Mrs. Pickett said. “If it goes well, we might have it in the fall, but we might have to change the day so students can still come.”

She said she became interested in the idea for the program after finding similar library programs online and through listservs.

“JoAnn just happened to visit and we started talking about it,” Mrs. Pickett said.

The children’s librarian used to have dogs of her own, and said she hopes the new program can forge bonds between Layla and children who may not have pets.

“I grew up with dogs, and the bond you have with them is so incredible,” she said. “If only kids could just have a piece of that.”

The program is for children 5 and older. Preregistration for a slot from noon to 2 p.m. is necessary. Sign up at the circulation desk or call the library at 785-7705.

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