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Article Published October 1, 2019
Scranton Library Adds Paws-itive Twist on Story-Time
Jesse Williams

The E.C. Scranton Library is playing host to a very special furry friend this fall, a visitor whose unique skillset and super-human empathy are sure to make him a hit with young readers.

Eli the goldendoodle, a certified reading therapy dog, will be at the library on Thursday, Oct. 3 to offer his services as a non-judgmental listener for any child who has struggled with reading, or has trouble reading in front of others.

“It’s a great program,” said Tessa Griffin, who runs the activity from the library’s side. “It really helps the kids build their confidence.”

Eli’s owner, Susan Donoghue, has traveled all over the state with her best friend visiting schools, colleges, and other places where Eli is able to offer comfort and support for those struggling with stress or trauma.

Being a great listener for kids learning to read, however, is something at which Eli is especially skilled, even compared to other dogs with his training and qualifications.

“He will often put his nose [in the book] and look interested,” said Donoghue. “A few times, with some of the kids, he...put[s] his paw on the book, and that can seem encouraging to those kids.”

“The kids are really happy,” said Griffin. “They always come out smiling, wanting to do it again. I have a lot of return sign-ups that happen.”

Having a non-human, comforting presence is a gentle way to help kids who might be anxious to read in front of other people, or whose reading skills suffer when they are put on the spot to overcome those issues.

“I’ve heard a lot of feedback from kids that they’ve done therapy dog programs at their schools, and they wonder if it’s the same dog...and that they’ve really enjoyed that,” Griffin said.

A handful of recent studies have shown a correlation between reading to animals and a student’s confidence and motivation to read, which in turn, is linked to higher literacy levels. But even without that direct link between dog and achievement, Eli still has a lot to offer.

“It’s a non-judgmental kind of creature who is sitting there, and they can be unselfconscious about their reading,” said Donoghue, “and feel like they’re kind of teaching him something—it just becomes an encouraging environment.”

Eli was not bred or steered from birth to be a therapy dog as many are, according to Donoghue. She recognized his serene personality from an early age, though, and eventually brought him to be trained and registered through an organization called Pet Partners.

“He was so calm, and he continues to be—he’s the calmest dog anyone has ever seen,” said Donoghue. “Everyone said, ‘He should be a therapy dog.’”

At Scranton, Eli will wait in the teen room as children take 15-minute turns reading to him, either from books they bring or a selection of dog-themed books of various reading levels the library provides. Anyone who participates in the program also receives Eli’s “baseball card,” complete with measurements and stats, according to Griffin.

“It’s fun, that [kids] love it so much,” said Griffin.

Reading to Eli is free, but registration is required in advance. Eli will also be at the library Thursday, Nov. 7, and Thursday, Dec. 5. To register for a reading session with Eli, call 203-245-8722, or visit the library’s temporary location at 250 Durham Road, Madison.