Furry listener encourages young readers

Posted November 26, 2009 8:43 a.m. EST

— An after-school program at the Emily Krzyzewski Family Life Center in Durham pairs young readers with an attentive listener to ease any nervousness they might feel.

Once a week, Rudy, a therapy dog, settles in to listen to stories. Children spend 20 minutes apiece reading to him.

Rudy and trainer Tom Steinbacher volunteer their time to help children build reading skills and self-confidence.

Steinbacher got Rudy when he was just eight months old. He spent a year training the German shepherd, now 5, for this task.

“A therapy dog is strictly a dog that is emotional relief for a person,” Steinbacher said. For kids who might not be comfortable reading aloud or in front of their peers, Rudy provides relief from being judged or being nervous.

He's patient, understanding, and he never interrupts.

“It really does calm them down,” Steinbacher said.

Adam Eigenrauch, director of education at the center, is pleased with the results.

“You see them become more enthusiastic as readers. You see them relax. You see them enjoy reading more. These are real stepping stones for kids as they develop as readers at a young age,” he said.

After each session, the reader gets a book and a sticker, and Rudy gets a hug.