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Antrim

A tail-wagging listener

Children read to therapy dog Mozart at the library each month

  • Mozart, the companion dog, visits to the Antrim Library once a month to help children with their outloud reading skills, without judgment.

ANTRIM — Learning to read out loud can be challenging for some, but for children who could benefit from a non-judgmental listener, there’s a couple special dogs out there to help.

Mozart is a 4-year-old Labradoodle, whose owner and handler, Nancy Benda of Antrim, trained him to be a therapy dog.

Benda is a full-time, physician’s assistant for in-patients at Cheshire Medical Center, and brings Mozart into the hospital on occasion to cheer up the people there. “He stayed with one person for four hours,” Benda said in an interview last Tuesday at the James A. Tuttle Library, where Mozart visits once a month. “They just really needed the attention and company.”

Benda is a former library trustee for the James A. Tuttle Library in Antrim, and had the idea of having children read to him as practice during Mozart’s training to become a therapy dog.

Mozart was certified as a therapy dog at the age of 2 after a year of training with Benda, who was trained to be a therapy dog trainer and handler by Sandy Snow of Therapy Dogs International. Now, Mozart is an official “Tail-Waggin’ Tutor.”

“He doesn’t judge,” Benda said, as Mozart, by her side, continued to pant and wag his tail.

Mozart visits the library the second Tuesday of every month. Parents or guardians can sign up with the library for a free 15 minute block of time with Mozart before he arrives that evening at 6:30 p.m.

Quince Kirtland, 8, of Antrim was the first child to ever read to Mozart back during his training and she was there Tuesday evening reading to him again.

“Hey Mozart do you want to read a chapter of Harry Potter?” Kirtland asked. Mozart began wagging his tail and continued to lick her leg as she giggled and started reading.

Benda said Mozart is trained to not bark, be with any person alone and to not look away and lose focus. She said her role is just dog handler, not a teacher.

“I’m not supposed to correct their reading, but if they ask me ‘what’s this word?’ I can tell them,” Benda added.

Having Mozart visit the library does more than help kids with their reading skills. “Parents will brings children in to help them feel better about being around dogs,” Benda said.

Library Associate Maureen Reider said in an interview on Nov. 7 that the children love having Mozart visit.

“He’s a very happy dog, he comes in and greets everyone,” Reider said. “It’s a great community builder, and it’s a way to encourage children to come into the library.”

The George Holmes Bixby Library in Francestown also has a therapy dog visitor named Riley. According to Children’s Librarian Mary Farrell, Riley visited the library once a week for a month this past October, and will be visiting the library again after the holidays.

Riley, a labrador, was trained by his owner and handler Deb McGrath of Francestown.

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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