Bruiser, a 150-pound French mastiff, knows when it’s time to go to work.
“I say, ‘Do you want to see your kids?’ and he perks up,” said owner Angie Reed of Puyallup.
The pooch, who also goes by “Monkey” and “Mr. Spiffy” depending on whom he’s with, is one of a handful of therapy dogs that children can practice reading to at the Puyallup Public Library.
The idea of the program, which started about eight years ago, is that kids learn better when they’re not worried about stumbling over a new word, children’s librarian Bonnie Anderson said.
That’s where Bruiser and the other canine volunteers come in.
“The dog doesn’t say, ‘Oh, you made a mistake,’” Anderson said. “The dog is just sitting there going, ‘Oh, you’re so wonderful.’ It’s almost automatic that (the kids’) reading improves.”
Anderson started the program in Puyallup after hearing about it at a conference.
Bruiser’s mother, Scarlett, who has since passed away, was one of the first reading buddies.
“She would walk into the library and it was like: ‘Well, are you going to come notice me? Of course you love me,’” Anderson remembered. “And the kids did.”
The dogs take turns visiting the library with their owners, which amounts to several doggie reading days each month.
While some kids aim to read to each pooch once, others look for one dog in particular. Regulars on the reading circuit include a yellow Lab named Coach and a mixed-breed dog called Dan.
“He’s laying on the book I was reading!” 4-year-old Edrienne Merritt of Puyallup exclaimed on a recent day at the library as Bruiser stretched and rolled onto her story book.
She also objected to his sneezing on her, but otherwise she said she liked reading to the pooch.
She used him to prop up books she pretended to read, making up her own stories to go with the pictures.
“They’re about building stuff,” she said. “Building a house.”
Reed said lots of little kids make up their own tales for Bruiser but that some older kids read to him in earnest.
A regular who is in about fifth grade brings chapter books and usually makes it through a couple of sections for the mastiff each visit, Reed said.
“I’ve noticed that I see certain kids come back again and again,” she said. “They always go, ‘I can’t read,’ and I say, ‘Guess what? He can’t either.’ It makes reading more fun, and the dogs love to be around them.”
Mason Steen of Puyallup didn’t have much to say when asked about Bruiser, but the dog seemed to be a hit with the 3-year-old from Puyallup, who dropped to all fours, barked and yelled “I’m a doggie!” before he found a book to share.
All the reading buddies are registered therapy dogs, which means they have gone through training and certification to work with the public.
“I love it,” Reed said about the program, as Bruiser lounged in a nook between library shelves. “I get to share my dog; he gets petted and read to. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Alexis Krell: 252-597-8268 alexis.krell@ thenewstribune.com www.thenewstribune.com/crime-news