MIDDLEBORO — Tivy the cocker spaniel is a good listener: he doesn’t judge, butt in with corrections or make funny faces when you run off course. Tivy cannot possibly promise to sit still, and whether or not he enjoys a good story, we’ll never know. But Tivy listens.

Five-year-old Middleboro resident Lotti Drummond found a captive audience in Tivy and retired children’s librarian Marilyn Thayer, Tivy’s mom, Monday afternoon at the Middleboro Public Library, part of the Reading with Miss Marilyn’s Spaniels program. The three found a quiet corner and got comfortable, and as Lotti bumbled through a few tales from the “Frog and Toad” series, Tivy sat comfortably, nosing around the book and its reader, occasionally lobbying for attention. Oblivious to the misadventures of Frog and Toad, and really not all that interested in the visiting newspaper reporter/photographer, Tivy sat tight and proved an exemplary lapdog.

kidsreading2dogsAs is the case wherever therapy dogs are doing their thing, the basic idea is to lighten the mood in a potentially stressful situation. For some young readers the payoff is simply adding a bit of fun to learning to read and practicing reading skills, while for others the dog provides a calming, non-judgmental audience which alleviates some of the pressure and anxiety that comes with reading aloud for a much bigger audience in the classroom.

“It can work in a number of ways,” says Thayer, who goes by Miss Marilyn at the library. “I’ve had kids that are frightened of dogs come in, and at first, Tivy stays away and we let them have their space, but very often by the end of the session they’re petting Tivy and playing with Tivy. So in that case, it’s helping them get over their fear… and maybe it’s helping them with their reading, or getting them interested in reading.”

It’s really just a way to add a little fun to reading, which is a chore for some kids. And all agree, Reading with Miss Marilyn’s Spaniels easily accomplishes that baseline goal. Any lasting, more dramatic results are all bonus.

Lotti is in her second session with the program and is reading way above the kindergarten level — she breezed through “Frog and Toad” and boasted of having completed “Green Eggs and Ham” in a previous session — and while Thayer won’t take any credit for Lotti’s proficiency, Franzi Drummond, Lotti’s mom, says the program is leaving an impression.

“It’s very beneficial,” Franzi said. “She enjoys reading in general, but having the treat of reading to Tivy is making her look forward to reading and making her practice. It takes a lot of the pressure off… no teachers, no other students listening… and it’s just fun for her. It’s a great program.”

Dog reading a bookTivy is a 12-year-old spaniel with an admirable show-dog resume. Included on that resume are “Certified Family Therapy Dog” and proud papa, as Tivy shares his listening duties with housemates Brazen, Tivy’s son, and Violet, a granddaughter. The dogs are well known to library patrons, and like all dogs, are motivated and influenced by treats.

At the conclusion of Monday’s session, Tivy was rewarded with double treats, as Lotti was waiting with one and her younger brother, three-year-old Chris, made good with another.

Reading with Miss Marilyn’s Spaniels is one of many cool kids’ programs available at your local library. The program is offered Monday afternoons, with 20-minute sessions available from 4 – 6:30 p.m. The current session runs through Feb. 23. Call the library 508-947-2470 to reserve a spot. As with nearly all programs at the library, Reading with Miss Marilyn’s Spaniels is offered free of charge.

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