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Puppy dog tales: Kids love reading to 'Annie'

A nonjudgmental, unconditional listener. That's Annie, the certified Reading Education Assistance Dog who listens to kids read at the Detroit Lakes Public Library.

In it's fourth week, the reading program has been booked with kids taking 15-minute slots reading to Annie.

"They can sign up or just take their chances," Librarian Mary Haney said, although the sign up sheets have been filled since the program began.

The Read to a Dog program is Tuesdays from 4 to 5:30 p.m. After 10 sessions with Annie, kids get a free book.

It began when Annie's owner Mary Holsen offered the program to Haney.

"She asked if we were interested, and we immediately said yes," Haney said.

The Detroit Lakes Library is the only one in the area Haney is aware of that offers the reading program.

Annie sits on a window seat in the library and listens intently as kids read to her. Sometimes she even puts her paw on the book to help.

"She's an unconditional listener. She never corrects the child," Haney said with a grin.

Haney added that research shows children who struggle with reading do better when they read out loud. Waiting to read to Annie also encourages other interactive reading, like children reading to their parents before getting to Annie.

Laura Fowler said the benefits have shown through her four children, who all take part in the reading program.

"My youngest was a shy reader," she said. "No one's judging her and now she's actually a very confident reader."

The Fowlers stumbled upon Annie and the reading program when they were in the library one day, saw Annie and was introduced to the program. She said now her kids look forward to Tuesdays at the library with Annie now.

Not only has the experience helped her youngest child, she said her older two children, who took reading out loud for granted, now read to their younger siblings, finding it neat to share.

Fowler said she would encourage parents to bring their kids to the library at take part in this "wonderful" reading program.

Holsen said Annie is certified through Delta Therapy to be a therapy dog. She takes Annie on nursing home visits also.

"The interaction is neat to see," Holsen said. "(The kids are) real excited about that nonjudgmental person."

She said Linda Livingston and dog Gundy will be joining the program as well and hopefully more people in the area will get their dogs certified to be therapy dogs.

Lucky Dog Training will be giving classes in the near future.

Holsen said she sees the benefit of Annie's visits as "having the nonjudgmental and neutral person."

Kids get into the reading by pointing out pictures to Annie and giving her a treat after they are finished with their reading time.

The library staff has really gotten into finding books for the kids to read that Annie would enjoy as well. Haney said Dotz Johnson was picking out books with dogs, but Haney pushed for more books with cats and squirrels.

Johnson said the reading program has been "wonderful for (their) confidence."

The reading program seems to be benefiting everyone involved -- the kids, Annie and the library.

"It's not only to practice reading, but it associates the library with fun," Haney said.